Skeleton Key Color Special

The three short stories Andi Watson created for Dark Horse Presents at the end of last year are now available in their own special issue. That’s a great thing for readers like me who fondly recall the Skeleton Key series and/or want anything Andi does. Actually, it’s a great thing for anyone who likes fun, charming stories with creative concepts and entertaining adventures.

Skeleton Key Color Special

Skeleton Key was a fascinating series for watching how quickly and radically Watson developed his artistic style over its run. The illustrations went from scratchy and line-filled to simplified confidence over the six years it came out (and five collections released). That paralleled the development of the lead character, as Tamsin grew from bored teen to young woman making life choices out on her own. The original concept — Tamsin discovered a magic key that allowed her to journey to other dimensions — was terrific, well-chosen to allow the artist’s imagination free rein while suiting the need of a teenager to crave new experiences and try on different identities.

Although it began as a fantasy adventure, with the introduction of Tamsin’s new friend Kitsune, a fox spirit found during one of the journeys, the series also developed a slice-of-life/girls growing up together undercurrent. In a way, this special returns to the “let’s see where we go today” feel of the earliest stories while maintaining the depth of the two women’s friendship. It also marks the latest transformation of Watson’s style, with the reductionist cartooning and gorgeous coloring similar to his work in Glister. He uses an almost monochrome palette that sets an emotional mood while varying the tones for readability. (And it’s the first time we’ve seen these two in color, if you don’t count covers.)

In the first story, “Dead Can’t Dance”, Tamsin and Kitsune meet a demented band that are raising zombies for their new music video. They’re silly wannabe artists, these “New Necromantics”, playing with forces beyond their control, but thankfully, Tamsin’s able to rescue them from the cursed results of their thoughtlessness.

“Room Service” sends the pair to a fancy haunted hotel, where they’re mistaken for exorcists. I loved the incorporation of the standard lodging expectations, including the minibar, in this tale, and the unexpectedly happy ending, as everyone becomes useful.

“Lost Property” is a bit deeper, as the two girls, seeking to get home, find themselves at risk of becoming an exhibit in the Museum of the Lost. This story best shows how imaginative Watson’s ideas can be, as the various inhabitants raised a giggle or an eyebrow. I particularly liked the dodos walking through (also seen on the back cover), and the way the guards were empty museum cases, hopping around on their pedestals. The issue also contains a short sketchbook section with some annotated character designs and proposed cover layouts.

I’d forgotten how much I missed Kitsune’s never-ending hunger and Tamsin’s proper snarkiness. This was a wonderful reminder of the appeal of the characters and the strength of Andi Watson’s work. I hope this isn’t all we see of Skeleton Key in future. There’s so much more they could do and I want to read. If you’d like to see a sample, the publisher has posted a preview.

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