Out latest round up of the best new small press comics all have an earthy, folk horror theme to them. The include: Lovecraftian dystopia Abyssal Albion; Martin Hayes and Alfie Gallagher’s experimental urban legend Earth Works; and Umar Ditta’s explosive new issue of gangster/folk horror Lad #3.
Abyssal Albion #1-2
Set in a post-apocalyptic Britain where the world is plagued by Lovecraftain sea beasts and creepy tree monsters, Abyssal Albion is your classic survival horror story of a brother and sister trying to make the most of the dangerous world they are now living in. Writing a good survival horror is almost as tricky as writing a good superhero book thanks to the number of Walking Dead wannabes that have appeared in the past few years and while Abyssal Albion has a great overall concept, mixing post apocalyptic survival and Celtic horror (no zombies fortunately!), the specifics of these first two issues were a bit of a struggle. The story follows a nameless brother and sister who start off in a cabin in the woods with a mysterious stranger in issue 1, and then move on to infiltrate a creepy coven on Brighton pier in issue 2. With both issues having their own identity it helps break up the story from issue to issue, however it does leap about from one concept to another without really giving us an idea of what is happening and who these characters are. It makes you realise how important the rules of a society like this are, and without a narrative explanation of what is happening we spent a lot of time trying to work out what was happening and why, rather than investing in the characters. We’re not saying all of this should be dumped on a reader at the start, but a bit more explanation of what is going on would help. We also found it odd that the lead characters didn’t have names and so trying to work out their relationship was challenging (we had to look up on Kickstarter to find out they were brother and sister for example). Visually the artwork of Wayne Lowden gives everything a really strong feel, mixing a very accomplished line style with some great outlandish fantasy and horror moment. His artwork reminded us quite a bit of Dan Butcher’s Vanguard (especially volume 3 in the woods), but without Dan’s use of Photoshop colouring and digital effects. Instead Lowden has a solid, hand-drawn style which feels quite classic and gives the thing a more old-school feel. While this review may sounds like we are being quite harsh on Abyssal Albion, it is because deep down we really enjoyed the concept and just wanted to get more out of these first issues. With a bit more explanation and context of the world we are in, Abyssal Albion could evolve into something really interesting as it has all the elements there to do it. A bit like their characters, it just needs a direction to head in and if we had that our journey through the highways and byways of Abyssal Albion would be a much more rewarding trek.
There seems to be a real run of great comics involving Celtic and British folklore at the moment. From Abyssal Albion we just talked about, through to Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, The Bog Road and many more. Writer Martin Hayes and artist Alfie Gallagher are joining this fascinating sub-genre with their new book Earthworks, which according to the books back matter is based on an infamous urban legend known as the Hexham Heads. When Barry and his partner Anne find a pair of mysterious stone masks in their garden while doing some digging, little do they know that will see them taken into dark new places as well as opening up old wounds. Hayes and Gallagher have taken the basic concept of the Heads (a mysterious pair of stone faces which curse the owners) and given it some extra layers of depth in order to create a compelling and enigmatic read. The revelations about the characters’ past are told using a succession of psychedelic double page spreads which reveal just enough detail about the past at each juncture to move the story along, with without over doing the exposition. All of which means the mystery builds nicely until we reach the dark conclusion. It also keeps things relatively ambiguous, which in a book like this helps, and retains a slight element of mystery throughout. Galllagher’s artwork meanwhile is much looser and more impressionistic than we have seen before in books like EIR or Debris. The cover feels like something from Martin Simmonds’ Department of Truth while the inside pages have a much more ink splattered and creepy feel to them which really goes well with the subject matter. The compositions also feel like they are taken from different angles with Gallagher pushing himself to do something different wherever possible, and this all makes the book feel much more experimental as a result – which in turn helps make it feel much more unique and not just another splattery horror book. All in all, this is a really great piece of creepy Celtic comics story-telling and if you are looking for a great one-and-done urban horror book, then this is well worth un-earthing.
Starting off as a violent and foul mouthed gangster book, Umar Ditta’s Lad has evolved into a creepy folk horror in keeping with the other books covered in this round up. After the enigmatic ‘Father’ (leader of an urban crime syndicate) is supposedly attacked by the mysterious ‘Hermit’, Lad and his family open a can of worms involving this mysterious man in the woods and get more than they bargained for in the process. With Lad and his gang of misfits heading into the woods to find the true Hermit and the meaning of what happened to ‘Father’, Lad has evolved from being a Lock Stock wannabe into a true ‘horror in the woods’ mystery. Ditta drip feeds us more and more information about what is going on in this strange mixed up world, while artist Carlos Pedra continues to deliver some spectacular artwork, juxtaposing the lightness of the ‘real world’ with the shadowy and mysterious woods. At times this style is perhaps too far removed and sometime looks a bit incomplete in the flashback scenes. But this is just because the detail and imagination in the more fantastical scenes is so impressive. With only a few issues left to go, Lad has developed from a loud and brash debut into a really intriguing read which keeps improving with every issue and we cannot wait to see how it comes together. We have a feeling that once we get to read the story in its entirety then we will really get an idea of what a fantastic series this has evolved into.