Ecce liber cum pictoris: Kiss Me, Satan #1
For a while now, I’ve been claiming that comics are about 60-65% art and 35-40% writing, and some people have mocked me and some have agreed with me, but that’s why we all have brains with which to think, right? Despite this contention, I still tend to follow writers, mainly because writers usually have more control over the direction of the comic, and even if they co-plot it with the artist, there’s still a strong authorial vibe with the writers I like that I tend to think of as their “voice” more than a collaboration, because it comes through in all their work, whether it’s with a great artist (like, say, J. H. Williams III) or a lousy one (like, say, Tony Daniel). But if it’s not one of the few writers I really like, I’ve noticed more and more that how a book is drawn is more important to me than what the writer says. Part of this is because so many comics are similar – not just the superhero ones, but even the non-superhero ones, where several genres have made comebacks in recent years. Ultimately, there’s only so many ways you can write a story, and a lot of writers don’t try too hard to write them in inventive ways. But artists are constantly coming up with interesting ways to draw a story.
Which brings me to Kiss Me, Satan, the new comic from Dark Horse. As you might recall, I’m totally in the bag for artist Juan Ferreyra, who’s one of the … oh, let’s say 10 best artists working in comics today. I try to read everything he publishes, at least here in the States (I don’t have access to anything he might do in Argentina), and I haven’t been disappointed yet. When I saw this comic offered in Previews, I was instantly intrigued. But … it’s written by Victor Gischler, and while I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything by Gischler, whenever I see his name attached to something, it doesn’t really interest me. Then I read the description, which mentioned stuff about werewolves and witches and angels in New Orleans, and it sounded like a cliché-fest waiting to happen. I mean, I’m a bit tired of horror, especially when it features such hoary creatures as werewolves and witches, unless there’s a clever twist on things, and if I read another horror book or see another horror movie/television show set in New Orleans I might have to dig my eyes out with a dull, dirty spoon. But when it appeared on Wednesday, I looked through it briefly, and I couldn’t resist Ferreyra’s artwork. So I bought it. Even with my contention that great art will turn a mediocre story into something good, I wasn’t sure about it. But what the hell, right? It’s $3.99, and Eduardo Ferreyra is the color assistant (Ferreyra tends to color his own work), while Nate Piekos letters it. So let’s get into it, shall we?
Well, it’s better than I expected. I mean, Gischler doesn’t exactly shoot for the moon, but he delivers a solid, entertaining, exciting story that feels familiar but isn’t awful. I know that’s damning with faint praise, but he can’t overcome the built-in clichés in something like this. On the first page, our protagonist lets us know that werewolves run “all the usual rackets” in New Orleans. This is just a way to introduce some werewolves for later, because it turns out our friend is more worried about four dudes from Hell – demons, as we soon learn – who are on his trail (he’s wearing a medallion they want, it seems, although it’s unexplained right now). They spot him and he leads them on a merry chase. After he escapes, he meets a small, goofy-looking angel who dresses like Tom Wolfe, and we learn that our hero’s name is Barnabus. Apparently Barnabus is an angel who rebelled with Lucifer but now wants back into Heaven, and the angels are making him do some work for them before he can return. That’s not a bad hook, and then Gischler gets us into the meat of the story, which involves the werewolves and witches. It turns out that there’s some bad blood brewing between the werewolves and witches, and Barnabus is sent to protect the witches, who didn’t do anything wrong. Gischler keeps everything moving along well – we get a sense of how the werewolf society works (just enough to explain the inciting event) and why Barnabus needs to protect the witches, but not why Heaven cares. That’s fine, though, because this is just issue #1 of 5! All will be explained, I’m sure.
Gischler doesn’t do anything to make the characters stand out – they’re plot devices, but he does manage to write some decent dialogue and he makes sure everyone moves through the book with a clear purpose. The main witch – Verona – who sets everything in motion appears to “see” something in the future that freaks her out more than what she says, but perhaps not. But he puts everyone where they need to be, and for a first issue, it kicks things off pretty well. I’m never happy when writers mess with the “mythology” of horror creatures – I like my werewolves changing only with the full moon and not during the day, thank you very much – but such is life, I suppose.
Ferreyra’s artwork, though, makes the book. A lesser artist wouldn’t have been able to bring this much energy to the script, and while Ferreyra can make Gischler’s words work, someone else probably wouldn’t have. Again, I hate damning with faint praise, as there’s nothing terribly wrong with the script, but it’s still just a fairly standard horror story so far. If you’re a fan of horror stories, who draws this probably doesn’t matter, because Gischler’s script has just enough twist to it so that it’s mildly intriguing. But we still have the mysterious stranger, the scuzzy bad guys, the damsels in distress who kick just enough ass but not enough that they don’t need a mysterious stranger to save them. Verona is an old crone, but of course she has three hot apprentices to spice things up. In the hands of a bad artist, this would be a forgettable story. But Ferreyra turns it into a compelling visual treat.
First of all, there’s Ferreyra’s designs. The demons who track Barnabus on the first few pages wear suits, complete with red vests, red bow ties, and red mirrorshades. Obviously, they’re from Hell, but I’m not sure if another artist would have made red such a strong part of their palette, or given them bow ties, which makes them seem a bit more evil (because bow ties are pure evil, don’t you know). Ferreyra continues this color scheme when he introduces Jules, the tiny angel, who has a red band on his fedora, a red tie (an actual necktie), and red shoes. He, however, is wearing a white suit. Is the red just a connecting color between creatures of the ether, or does it have a more sinister application when applied to Jules? Anyone who’s ever read or seen something like this knows we can’t trust Jules at all, but it’s interesting that Ferreyra might clue us in visually even though Gischler, so far, hasn’t done anything to put the idea in our heads. Ferreyra’s bad guys are a bit too Eurotrash – they look like they’re about to party with Xander Cage – but he makes sure that Cassian and Kane are menacing nevertheless, and he makes sure they look different from each other. Cassian is older and stouter, obviously the pack leader, while the younger Kane looks slightly more emaciated, indicating that he might not eat quite as well as Cassian. It’s a nice contrast. Verona and her apprentices are well done, too – Verona might be a stereotypical old lady and her apprentices stereotypical hot young women, but Ferreyra can draw hot women well, plus he’s good at putting clothing on them, which is harder than it sounds:
Ferreyra is excellent at action, too, as we see in the comic. His style is fluid enough to move us through the action well but crisp enough so that we miss nothing. He’s good at gore, too, which is probably why he’s been drawing horror comics recently – he doesn’t sanitize anything, and when you watch one of his fights, you can feel the brutality. There’s no question that people are getting hurt and killed. More than that, though, it feels like the stakes are higher, as if the good guys could get killed at any moment. We’re pretty sure they won’t, but Ferreyra’s art makes it feel that way.
He’s also tremendous with subtleties, which is also harder than it looks. There are some nice visual gags in the book, which work well with Gischler’s script, and Ferreyra helps sell them with the way his characters react to situations. He changes their expressions just enough so that the situation becomes comical. In other instances, he shows personalities by showing the way characters react to things. One of the apprentices, Zell, seems like the toughest one (she’s the one talking in that panel above), and notice her face in this panel as opposed to the others':
When Barnabus tells the witches that they should probably come with him (if they want to live), I love the way Ferreyra shows it, with their faces going from stunned disbelief and fear to amazement that Verona would accept:
The colors on a Ferreyra book are always going to be fantastic, and that’s true here, too. The trend in comics seems to be toward darker coloring, especially on non-superhero books, but Ferreyra doesn’t follow that trend, as even the night scenes in the comic are well-lit. They’re not too bright, because it’s still night, but Ferreyra (and Eduardo Ferreyra) makes sure that the reader can see everything, and he uses special effects very well to highlight the weirdness of the scene without overwhelming it. More and more, I wish artists would color their own work (unless you can get one of the very best colorists in the business, but they’re pretty busy), and Ferreyra makes it clear that it’s a good idea.
I don’t mean to give Gischler short shrift, but I don’t really love the writing on this comic even though it’s better than I expected. There’s nothing terrible about the writing, but there’s nothing that grabs you, either. What does grab you is Ferreyra’s artwork, and for me, obviously, it was enough to get me to buy this. I’m even going to give the second issue a chance, which I wouldn’t have done if someone sub-par had drawn this. So, for me at least, it was smart for Gischler to hook up with Ferreyra. Now he’ll have to make the writing match the artwork. We’ll see if he can.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆