As you might expect from indie legends like David Hine and Mark Stafford, their new book Lip Hook from SelfMAdeHero, starts off as a fairly traditional crime story, but when Vince and his moll Sofia end up in the foggy village of Lip Hook, things soon begin to take a turn for the darker, involving insect factories, lesbian witches and ancient pagan blood rituals.
Writer: David Hine
Artist: Mark Stafford
Price: £14.99 from SelfMadeHero
With echoes of American Werewolf in London or Psycho, Lip Hook starts off with the familiar idea of a pair of strangers on the run and coming to a remote village and being caught up in the weirdness. But Hine and Stafford dial the craziness up to 11, and beyond, to create a dark and unsettling horror tale that is completely one of a kind. Every time you think you have a handle on where the story is going, there is a moment or a visual that reminds you this is not going to be what you expect, as it builds and builds to a shocking and outrageously weird conclusion.
The weirdness starts off small with things like a mysterious fog that encircles the village and is made more sinister by the residents wearing gas masks. These vary from classic World War I type masks, to more bizarre fetishistic masks that gives the world this creepy and unnatural appearance. Then there is the factory which holds the secret to the fog, but this is no ordinary factory it harvests insects for zoos and labs, and mixes the aesthetics of a Victorian workhouse with the creepy sci-fi vibe of Seth Brundle’s lab in The Fly.
As the story builds and develops we are introduced to ideas of ancient religions begin held in Lip Hook and there being a secret past which must not be discovered. But because this is a Hine and Stafford book they turn this notion on it’s head and instead of Vince and Sophia being unwitting heroes they are embroiled in the centre of it, making things worse, rather than helping to save the residents. Instead the role of hero is taken on by two young kids, Cal and Falcon, who discover the true meaning of what is happening, but it is still part of a wider plot that stretches back years and involves various members of both children’s family.
We often discuss on here about how books take the familiar and turn them on their head to make something completely unique and Hine and Stafford do this to perfection in Lip Hook. The village itself has this quant English sensibility like something from an Agatha Christie book, but it is rendered with this dark and foreboding aesthetic that feels more like it is part of a Hammer horror film. It is contemporary but nostalgic, very English yet Vince and Sophia arrive in an American saloon like Bonnie and Clyde. The use of Pagan imagery and the supernatural evokes the Wicker Man, but this is no Hot Fuzz style parody it is very much about embracing the darkness and horror that the pagan elements evoke.
There is also this fetishistic, almost fascistic undertone, especially with the factory and it’s owner Lord Huxley who has an almost Nazi style to his appearance, made even more so with the use of gas masks and dark militaristic clothing. Hine and Stafford seem to use all of these visual clues to create this world which is so familiar, but then make it more abnormal and strange, revealing a dark and unsettling underbelly to the quaint English countryside. It is definitely helped by Stafford’s unique artwork, from his squashed and gurning faces to the twisted lettering which really makes it feel utterly unique.
Hine and Stafford work in perfect harmony to make these bizarre and often terrifying ideas come of life. Stafford’s incredible artwork is more than a match for Hine’s extravagant concepts and the two create pages which are dense and layered, packed full of strange details and outlandish concepts. Whether it is the ritual in the church at the end, or even the simple moment of a village cricket game which features an image of a wicket-keeper which we are never going to unsee!
Lip Hook is definitely not a book for everyone, as it’s dark themes and strange and unsettling visuals are as shocking as they are spectacular to look at. But if you like your books to be surreal, dark, funny and highly imaginative then you will not find a better and more outlandish book this year. It will definitely make you never want to head off the beaten track and into a marshy dead end ever again.