One nice thing about reviewing a new book a couple of days after it comes out rather than a couple of days before is that it gives you a chance to read what others have to say about it before sitting your ass down in front of the keyboard yourself. You can determine what other critics got right in their assessments, and what they got wrong. See what you agree with and disagree with. All that good stuff.
Take, for example, the first issue of the new Image Comics four-parter Winnebago Graveyard, which comes our way courtesy of veteran horror comics author Steve Niles (who created a little something you may have heard of called 30 Days Of Night before going on to, among other things, co-founding Black Mask Studios), architect-turned-artist Alison Sampson, and master of moody hues Stephane Paitreau. By and large people seem pretty pleased with it, and are quick to point out that it’s a fairly heartfelt homage to 1970s “never-get-off-the-main-road” horror films such as THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and (most obviously) THE HILLS HAVE EYES, with a little bit of I DRINK YOUR BLOOD or MESSIAH OF EVIL-esque “devil cult” influence thrown in for good measure. These critics are in no way wrong — but they’re not entirely right, either.
To be sure, Niles is in no way trying to hide the various and sundry tips of the hat liberally interspersed throughout his script, but I think there are more of them than people realize. In fact, Winnebago Graveyard is nothing if not a love letter to all of ’70s celluloid horror in general, given that events play out in a near-dreamlike manner that would make Dario Argento himself proud, but hew closely to the grindhouse ethos of, say, a David F. Friedman all the way through. There’s even a nice helping of Herschell Gordon Lewis-style low-rent blood n’ guts to be had in the opening pages. It all feels grimy, dirty, dark, and dangerous — just like it should.
In fairness, there may not be anything new under the sun — or, in this case, the full moon — on offer here, but damn is it done well: hooded figures in robes perform grisly human sacrifice. Cut to a “blended family” (mom, son, and newly-minted stepfather) in a rented RV headed west. They venture off the highway onto some desolate desert road to check out a travelling carnival. They even hit the freakshow. They then find their titular Winnebago has been absconded with while they were eating cotton candy and gawking at the bearded lady. They head off on foot and pass a dilapidated, probably-haunted house. A potential rescuer in a beaten-down old pickup truck passes them by. They eventually come across what appears to be a ghost town. They’re fucked.
I won’t bullshit you : this comic takes all of about five minutes to read (unless you spend the 10-15 minutes required to take in the very good backmatter essay, which I highly recommend that you do), but Sampson’s art is absolutely gorgeous and you can while away the better part of an hour taking in all the majestically creepy details (a cloud shaped like open alligator’s jaws? How awesome is that?) she packs into every deliriously rich panel. There’s a bit of a late-’80s/early-’90s indie vibe to her style that fans of Guy Davis or Vince Locke are sure to recognize (and dig), but it’s imbued with a more “high-art” sensibility that nevertheless isn’t ashamed of its shadowy, sketchy lineage. Slap on some deep, rich, damn-near textured colors from Paitreau, and you’ve got illustration that I could easily say that I love, but ya know what? Even that might not be praise enough.
So, yeah, these fine folks can just take my sixteen bucks now, ‘cuz there’s no way I’m not sticking this one out to the finish. There are a number of pretty damn good horror series out there right now, but if the next three issues of Winnebago Graveyard are as good as the first, we’re looking at one of the best comics of the year here, easily.