- Posted by Johanna on August 19, 2011 at 1:35 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Josh Hechinger; art by mpMann
- PUBLISHER: Archaia; $24.95 US
This series may be the poster child for the rapidly changing comic market. It was originally supposed to be a five-issue print miniseries, back in April 2008. I read a preview of the first issue then and liked it, but the series never came out. Then it was announced in January 2010 that the comic would be released digitally on Graphicly.
A graphic novel was supposed to follow in fall 2010, but it’s only now, a year later, that the book has once again been solicited. All of this speaks to how difficult it can be to find the right format, audience, and market for a new independent comic. Previous times, the orders weren’t high enough. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again, because this story has a lot of hooks and deserves a bigger audience.
The Grave Doug Freshley is a Western buddy movie with a zombie and a sense of humor. Even though there are some aspects of this mix that don’t usually speak to me (Westerns, meh; zombies, yuck), the overall mix is so strong that I found plenty to enjoy, sometimes in spite of myself.
Bat McNally is a kid whose parents have been killed by cattle rustlers. Doug Freshley is the ranch hand (and old friend of Bat’s father) who won’t let anything, even death, stop him from protecting his young charge. Doug’s shot through the head, but he gets up, rescues Bat, and the two set out to find the criminals. Their trip takes them through the usual Western conventions: the saloon poker game, the showdown with the sheriff, the canyon ride, the abandoned mine, and so on. The father/son relationship that develops makes this more than just a hunt for revenge, though, and it’s amusing seeing Doug try to continue educating Bat, only the lessons have become very different.
Josh Hechinger manages to impart his story with a wise-ass tone that doesn’t go too far into snark, while mpMann’s art is marvelously atmospheric, with just the right attitude for the laconic lead. Doug has the wide crazy-eyes of Jonah Hex and a ridiculously outsized hat that somehow fits him without looking silly. He’s much more than he appears to be, though, with his supernatural determination to right wrongs.
Hechinger leaves the storytelling to mpMann’s art when he can, with wordless movement sequences conveying action (and sometimes humor) clearly. The straightforward coloring both gives the feel of the Western frontier and makes the story easy to read, with realistic tones that shade into emotional highlighting at key moments. The dialogue is full of dialect, adding to the flavor, and the voices of the kid and the man differ in tone and attitude. (I’m sometimes surprised by how many people can only write one voice, regardless of which character they’re trying to express.) The book goes further than I expected it would, yet there’s an ending open for more adventures, and I hope we see them — I’d like to read them.
The Grave Doug Freshley is due from Archaia in October. It can be ordered from your local comic store now with Diamond code AUG11 0806. You can read the first chapter via Graphicly, or the artist has posted a few preview pages. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)