House of Mystery: Room and Boredom
I wasn’t looking for another series to read, but I tried the first issue of this new-style anthology, and I was hooked. House of Mystery: Room and Boredom collects the first five issues of the series.
Cain and Abel, the DC horror comic hosts from the 70s who lived in the Houses of Mystery and Secrets, respectively, make a two-page cameo at the beginning, but after that, it’s all new. The House of Mystery is now a bar outside dimensions.
Fig Keele is the newest inhabitant, chased by mysterious characters in old-fashioned dress as her house in this reality burned down. An architecture student, she’d been dreaming of and drawing the house. The other regulars, those trapped and unable to leave, include the bouncer Ann Preston, a pirate; the self-announced “charming rogue” Poet (who may be John Keats, based on a hint about his death); the grumpy-but-talkative waitress Cress (short for Cressida, we later learn); and bartender Harry Bailey. The other characters come and go, but they tell tales along the way as recompense for their food and drink.
It’s been done before in comics: Vertigo’s own Sandman: World’s End, for instance. But this version is well-done and moves along quickly. The stories told by the guests, a different one each issue, are written by Matthew Sturges and illustrated by guest artists. In the first, Bill Willingham writes and Ross Campbell draws a short thing about a bug-bride. The second has Willingham with Jill Thompson postulating a supernatural process server’s trip underwater.
Not all of these are true stories — the second one, by the time it’s begun, it’s done — but they capture the voices of people telling tales to each other. The first depends on the contrast between the words and pictures, so it only works as a comic, not spoken by the character within the story. By the third, Sturges is doing them all, and they’re no longer necessarily horror. The third, drawn by Zachary Baldus, is a kind of gangster comedy, which goes along well with the dark humor of Fig’s attempts to escape the house.
I liked Steve Rolston’s contribution to the fourth, about a witch princess, her murderous cheetah, and the search for true love. That story was deeply twisted in a funny way, and that’s when I knew I really liked this series. Regular artist Luca Rossi is also terrific. He draws expressive people, detailed settings, and makes it all look effortless.
Sturges creates intriguing situations, to-the-point dialogue that’s a pleasure to read, and a fascinating cast with a minimum of text, making an issue feel more dense than many others of the same length. That’s an excellent thing in today’s world, as many readers are asking themselves why not wait for the eventual collection? In this case, the paperback is an even better deal, as the bargain price of $10 for five issues’ worth of comic comes with additional unspecified bonus material.
Best of all, by issue 5, we’ve gotten some good idea about what makes Fig special and a bit of explanation of what’s going on. Which makes this collection even come with a little resolution.