Hit it Again with Gravetrancers #1: Review
Story: M.L. Miller
Art: James Michael Whynot
Colors: Dee Cunnniffe
Letters: Jim Campbell
Production Art: Phil Smith
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
So, you’re doing a horror comic? Yeah, ok.
Wait – you’re doing a horror comic about a crazed family of grave robbers getting high off the corpses of the recently deceased? Sign me the hell up.
Gravetrancers is a welcome throwback to the unsavory and delightful world of horror comics, and what a world it is. With an art style that tips its hat to EC legend Graham Ingels and conjures a bit more modernity a-la Wrightson or Totleben, Whynot’s work is a welcome infusion of life into contemporary comics. The art is gooshy and expressive, with a lot of the fun and melodramatic staging you rightfully expect in a horror comic. Cuniffe’s colors are, as always, on point, with a great set of palettes that make what could otherwise be an overwhelming landscape come alive page by page.
And the psychedelia? Keep it coming.
I appreciate the chances Miller’s taking with Gravetrancers as a genre punch that’s also trying to push the envelope further. While the sobriety angle hammers a little harder than I need it to, I think Miller can spool it out to create some good, rich tension. Miller’s rightfully reminded us that horror comics were – and still should be – a vast landscape of endless imagination in which we can investigate the unsavory and dangerous parts of the human psyche. I get the sense that there’s not much that’s not off the table in this story, and no matter how this work plays out, I’d always rather go out on a limb and fail with a creative team than play it safe.
The problems in this issue don’t eclipse what’s achieved, but they are problems nonetheless. Campbell and team do smart things with dialogue-heavy panels to try to maximize space and there’s no extra air within balloons as a result, but the lettering’s slant is a touch too severe and the size just a hair too small to be seamlessly readable. A caveat here is that trying to marry a readable style, digital or hand-done, to this particular kind of art seems incredibly difficult, but if I’m squinting I’m not appreciating the full experience that horror depends on to succeed.
There are also a few choices in panel structure, angle and backgrounds that break mood – Marbel and Anthony’s cross-country drive is unmoored in several pages of simple, horizontal linework. The intended effect is scenery that rightfully recedes behind intense (and over-expository) sibling dialogue, but I needed a little more visual differentiation to break up the hefty balloon load, and to really earn the fabulous cemetery gate reveal and increasingly intricate art that follows. There’s some nice gutter action, but a few art moments are too hectic or angled too much to either create visual harmony across the page, or to deconstruct it effectively.
Overall, I’m not shocked, appalled or creeped out beyond belief – I’ll need more from Miller and team to earn those high notes, but I’m seriously pleased by a juicy visual feast that promises some old-school nods and drug trip-goodness. Miller and team are fans, and they seem to know where they’re stepping. Congratulations to Gravetrancers for busting down the door that society keeps trying to close on this side of our beloved pulp – now, you better deliver.