Cannibal Conspiracy, Well-Done in THE DREGS Volume 1 Review
Published by: Black Mask Studios
Written by: Zac Thompson & Lonnie Nadler
Pencils, Inks, Letters, & Covers by: Eric Zawadzki
Colors by: Dee Cuniffe
The Dregs is really a book that shouldn’t work. In just four issues, the story touches on, but is not limited to, themes and content related to homelessness, displacement, gentrification, cannibalism, Don Quixote, drug addiction, and crime noir. It’s an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink situation that shouldn’t work, but it does and does well.
One half of why it works is because of a tight script from Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler. Their story focuses on Arnold, a drug-addled homeless man, who embarks on a dangerous search for his missing friend, Manny, and uncovers a conspiracy to cannibalize the less fortunate.
Arnold’s investigation takes the reader on a wide-sweeping tour of Vancouver, covering everything from the dirty squats he and Manny live in to the luxury, skyscraper-fill parts of the city. Thanks to sharp, lean dialogue, the story keeps a quick pace, though. Arnold never stays in one place too long, but stays long enough to make a location feel authentic and essential.
The plot itself is an ever-expanding web of conspiracy that’s equal parts reality and hallucination. Arnold’s simple quest to find his friend becomes a Chinatown-esque investigation that’s further complicated by his drug addiction and possible mental illness. Thompson and Nadler were faced with a monumental task in presenting this in a clear and intriguing way, but they stick the landing.
And to the writers’ credit, the story successfully feels as if it takes no sides on the issues it presents. Nothing is glamorized or demonized, but rather it’s all laid out for readers to consider and form opinions about themselves.
Only one small aspect of the writing detracted from the story—a recurring child character who speaks in a cutesy-slang dialect. Her dialogue unnecessarily calls attention to itself, but at best this is a nitpick, and honestly, it doesn’t seem that out of place in a book like The Dregs.
The other half of why The Dregs works is because of smart visuals by Eric Zawadzki and Dee Cuniffe. A reader well-versed in Marvel or DC comics might look at the art in The Dregs and be left wanting. Its lines aren’t clean. All of the details aren’t necessarily in-focus.
But with a story that’s both grounded and strange, the art has to straddle that line as well, and Zawadzki’s art navigates that razor’s edge with precision. By and large, the book’s art is very straightforward—easy-to-follow panel breakdowns with clear sequential storytelling.
Wisely taking the less-is-more approach, Zawadzki only lets the art slip into strangeness when it benefits and enhances the story. When Arnold’s investigation is circling back on itself and progress has all but stopped, the art breaks conventional page layout to drive home that feeling of helplessness.
I’d also be remiss not to mention Dee Cuniffe’s colors on the book. Part of Zawadzki’s success with the art is made possible because of Cuniffe’s coloring decisions. When the book’s art shifts to the strange, it’s the colors that the signal something has changed. As a result, these transitions are less jarring for the reader and they don’t take you out of the book.
The Bottom Line
By conventional standards, The Dregs would be an imperfect book. The story is meandering and overflowing with ideas and themes. The art is rough and lacks the precision of a mainstream book.
But The Dregs isn’t a conventional story.
What could have been an over-the-top and forgettable story was made extraordinary because of the creative team’s strong script and art that moves this story from a grounded setting to some very strange places with ease and clarity. The result is a comic book that embraces its weirdness to create a sweeping conspiracy, while at its core still telling a story about the importance of friendship.
The first time around, too many people overlooked The Dregs. Don’t make the same mistake with the collected edition. It’s strange, horrifying, and absolutely worth your time.