A couple weeks ago, I reviewed two issues of an autobiographical comic series by Gord Cummings called Mercy Seat. They were pretty good, so you should go check out what I said about them. Gord, however, also dabbles in fiction and Pumpkin Juice is a horror anthology containing his own tales as well as ones done by other authors/illustrators. There’s no number on this book, so I don’t know if this is a one-off or a first issue, but, like Mercy Seat, it’s a good package nonetheless.
Gord contributes two stories to the compilation and both are illustrated by my favorite artists from Mercy Seat, Nick Johnson and Richard Barkman. Johnson does the artwork for Demon Cleaner, a lively tale about a reprobate bar hopper and romancer of teenage girls who fights off a horde of zombies in a dark alleyway. Johnson’s angular, heavy black drawing is the perfect companion to the plot. The set-up isn’t really much more than an excuse to have the artist really let loose with grotesque zombie-mutilating action. The action’s fast and furious with lots of icky scenes of the main character slicing zombies in half, knocking their blocks off, etc. Johnson keeps it all moving quickly, yet clearly and each graphic scene of zombie disposal flows very nicely into the next. There’s also a very ominous final panel that doesn’t seem so much as an ending as the beginning of an even bigger story. I was kind of hoping it was going to keep going and perhaps a part two is in the works down the road.
Savage Human, Gord’s other story in the book, didn’t work for me as well, i.e. besides the lush, realistic shading artwork by Richard Barkman. (I’m not sure of Barkman’s technique, but it looks like pencil shadings to me — and I know nothing.) At first, I could relate as an average seeming guy is attacked by a homeless nut at a busy crosswalk. While I’ve never been physically assaulted — or stabbed as this guy is — I’ve had plenty of disturbing encounters with lunatics walking to and from the subway. But then the guy just goes home and wails at the inhumanity of man. That happens to me, too, but usually after some knucklehead practically runs me over and just stares blankly into space as he’s doing it. People’s inhumanity doesn’t bother me much anymore, even though I’ll give someone a good what-for after almost killing me. But, the good part here is Barkman’s very humanistic drawings illustrating a story about inhumanity. Good match up.
The last two stories in the book are by different folks. Vince Smith writes and illustrates the stark Bread, which sort of plays like a classic EC type of tale, but I just mean in terms of overall plot and the twisty ending. Rather than being overly written with thick captions like EC used to do, this is an economically told story with no captions, limited dialogue and nice linework that alternates between open expanses of white and dark. Two exterminators are called to an abandoned bakery to rid the place of a bird infestation. But what plays out is like a twisted combination of Hitchcock’s The Birds and Pixar’s Ratatouille. The final page then wraps it all up with a real humdinger of an ending.
However, the real winner of the anthology is the final story written and drawn by Chris Peterson. It’s called Peter Pan and it puts a real demonic twist to J.M. Barrie’s classic. Instead of being the hero, Peterson has cast Peter as the villain, a vicious little prick who maintains his youthfulness by kidnapping and eating little boys. A teenage Wendy Darling is babysitting her little brother Michael in a park when they are captured and whisked away by Peter. First, he torments them with Tinkerbell who is held captive in a tiny cage. Then, he gets the Lost Boys, other kids he’s kidnapped whom he hasn’t eaten yet, to help him turn Michael into a stew. Captain Hooke, of course, finally turns up as the hero. Like all good fairy tales should be, this is a nasty, dark little story that’s also a really inventive twist on a beloved favorite. Plus, it has great art and wonderful designs on all the characters. Just a really great story.
For more info, please visit Gord’s publishing company, Vicious Ambitious.