Indie Comics Spotlight – Grave Wax #1, Briggs Land: Lone Wolves #1, and The Divided States of Hysteria #1


By: Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)

Grave Wax #1

“Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow.”

Every town comes with its own legends and myths. Most of them surround the concept of a family’s legacy intertwined with the town’s. In Grave Wax #1, the intersection of family legacy and myth is where the story happens. The issue is written by Heather Palmer and illustrated/lettered by Allan MacRitchie.

Kininch is an old highland town, deep in the hills and mired in folklore. But folklore isn’t just a story in this town. When an ancient tomb is desecrated in the heart of the town graveyard, Cait, a lowlander laying low in the highlands, and Shay, the son of the local policeman, launch the investigation. Accompanied by their guide to all things that wail in the night, a punk librarian by the name of Waxy, the two delve deep into ancient promises, fresh curses and the secrets they have all been hiding.

Palmer knows that there’s an abundance of folklore out there and that it’s especially relative in smaller towns. That folklore serves as the backbone for Grave Wax #1 and Palmer leans into it very well to create a moody atmosphere for the issue. Cait and Shay have stumbled upon what appears to be a desecrated tomb in their town’s graveyard, but as they investigate further, Palmer ensures that there’s the possibility of something more supernatural at play. The issue plays with this sense of the unknown pretty well, funneling a lot of its explanation through Waxy the librarian as a means of keeping the reader up to speed. Palmer doesn’t tip her entire hand in the first issue as far as what’s going on, but there’s definitely enough questions asked that the reader remains intrigued.

The artwork by MacRitchie is an amorphous approach that leaves a lot to the imagination. Characters are rendered with vague attention to detail and an emphasis on heavy shading, providing the shadows that accompany the darkness of night. It’s an interesting design choice too in that MacRitchie fills all the panels with black, allowing the characters to stand out that much more. MacRitchie’s choice is pretty effective in essentially illustrating a story that largely takes place at night in a way that’s pretty easy to follow. The other colors are also dark and largely reds and blues, maintaining a consistent presentation of darkness.

Grave Wax #1 is an ambitious first issue rife with superstitious undertones. Cait, Shay, and Waxy are all getting caught up in what’s originally believed to be a simple grave robbery that they’ll likely find out is much more. Palmer’s script is easy to read and does a solid job of presenting the stakes to the reader. MacRitchie’s illustrations are loose and give the book an ethereal touch. Grave Wax #1 will appeal to those looking for some local folklore tales that doesn’t require an in-depth knowledge of everything that goes bump in the night.

Grave Wax #1 is available now.

Briggs Land: Lone Wolves #1

“…from their perspective, my clients are living in perfect accordance with the ideal of America…”

It’s no surprise that in today’s America, there are fringe groups walling themselves off and maintaining their own belief system. Optimistically, those belief systems don’t venture too much further out and cause a standoff with the government at large. In Briggs Land: Lone Wolves #1 from Dark Horse Comics, it’s pretty inevitable that’s exactly what will happen. The issue is written by Brian Wood, illustrated by Mack Chater, colored by Lee Loughridge, and lettered by Nate Piekos of BLAMBOT.

Isaac Briggs, fresh off a tour in Afghanistan and struggling to reintegrate, finds solace hiking the old forest trails. When two random backpackers wander onto the Land, an innocent situation quickly turns dangerous and Isaac’s military training takes a turn down a dark path. Welcome to Briggs Land, nearly a hundred square miles of rural wilderness, representing the largest anti-government secessionist movement in the United States.

It would typically be pretty easy to write off something like Briggs Land: Lone Wolves #1 as an outlandish concept with no roots in reality, but Wood wants the reader to know that the tale here is an actual, real concept. The issue opens up by setting extremely high stakes for the reader in the way of a standoff and what follows is Wood explaining why it is the Briggs feel they’re just defending their rights. 2017 is a year of hyper-partisanship and an adherence to a sense that everyone thinks they know best–something Wood isn’t shy about conveying in this issue. His dialogue is very crisp and to the point, effectively moving the plot along in a way that builds up suspense. And the Briggs family is characterized as one deeply devoted to their ideals, so much so that they’re willing to take a stand defending them.

Chater’s illustrations are defined by fluid linework and and abundance of shading. This does well in helping to present the reader with the lush wilderness that is Briggs Land, emphasizing that it’s a vast expanse of nature untouched by just about anyone but hikers and solar panels. The characters all showcase darker emotions well to further underscore Chater’s attention to the seriousness of the topics in the book. Chater also empties the gutters to give each panel attention. Loughridge’s natural tones further ground the book in the themes of man convening with nature that the book at large attempts to draw upon.

Briggs Land: Lone Wolves #1 is a very sound first issue. The Briggs family have a long history behind them of nefarious deeds, but at the same time they feel that they’re owed ownership of “their” land as they deem fit. Wood taps into very real fears and emotions in the issue, almost guaranteeing an ending that comes as a result of escalation on both sides. Chater’s artwork is crisp and does a great job of following along with the Briggs as they explore their land. Briggs Land: Lone Wolves #1 gives the reader plenty to grab hold of and anticipate as the series unfolds.

Briggs Land: Lone Wolves #1 is available now.

The Divided States of Hysteria #1

“…finally found their exceptionalism soured…”

It’s no surprise that the 2016 U.S. presidential election was one fraught with surprise and emotion, both of which permeates down to the American society at large. Different people have different takes on the aftermath and one of the more unfiltered ones is that in The Divided States of Hysteria #1 from Image Comics. The issue is written and illustrated by Howard Chaykin, colored by Jesus Aburtov, and lettered by Ken Bruzenak.

An America sundered. An America enraged. An America terrified. An America shattered by greed and racism, violence and fear, nihilism and tragedy…and that’s when everything really goes to hell.

Credit to Chaykin where credit is due – The Divided States of Hysteria #1 pulls absolutely no punches and is brazenly blunt. Chaykin infuses the issue with an abundance of raw emotion, all of which comes together to serve as a scathing critique of American society. The issue is set-up in a way that introduces the players through their exceedingly vile actions, yet each of these individuals represent America in some way. There’s not even a remote attempt by Chaykin to play it safe in the book; instead, he goes all-in on holding a mirror to the America that many people refuse to acknowledge exists. And that’s why Chaykin writes an issue that’s so solid, because it’s more rooted in reality than a lot of readers would like to admit.

Chaykin’s artwork in The Divided States of Hysteria #1 is just as coarse as the tone he takes in the writing to get across his point. There are numerous graphic scenes throughout the issue covering everything sex to murder to just about everything in between. Chaykin knows that a literal message only has so much impact and his artwork reinforces that idea by being very blunt in its assessment of American society. His style is still very recognizable in terms of how characters are illustrated with something of an exaggeration of body types. Somewhat surprisingly, Aburtov’s colors are actually bright and vivid, giving the book some sense of optimism (but also make the blood from assassinations stand out more too).

Saying that The Divided States of Hysteria #1 is raw and unfiltered is an understatement. None of the characters in the issue are inherently good people and their attitudes will drive the remainder of the series. Chaykin’s script is unfiltered and brazen in its message, unapologetic as one person’s viewpoint of modern-day America. Chaykin’s artwork is familiar and effective in underscoring his message. The Divided States of Hysteria #1 doesn’t pull any punches in regards to its message and is a very brash read.

The Divided States of Hysteria #1 is available now.

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