“DRUMHELLAR” #1 (Comic Review)
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Psychic detectives are a dime a dozen. Every coma patient with a bump on his noggin has a story to tell about your dead grandmother’s will, your love life, and “do you know someone whose name starts with a B?” Even comic books are overrun with spiritual mediums, from the classic Dr. Strange, to the more modern John Constantine and Cal McDonald, and even pushing to the future with Judge Dredd’s mind-reading police associates. So why in the world would Image Comics introduce yet another trench-coat toting, cigarette-chomping, down-on-his-luck investigator of the weird into the already clogged cake-hole of entertainment? Because it’s actually pretty good. While the initial idea of DRUMHELLAR might sound like another rehash, the Alex Link and Riley Rossmo-created series manages to set itself apart with a dynamic art style and hungry passion from the latter.
Perhaps it’s Rossmo’s successful track record as artist for COWBOY NINJA VIKING or recently adding his inks to ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, but whatever it was, someone saw it fit to give the man not only a little creative discretion, but a large net of distribution to boot. With DRUMHELLAR, it’s easy to see why. The book opens with the protagonist, Drum Hellar, summoning the spirits of the earth in the form of an egg-laying peacock. As Heller cracks open the golden egg, he takes a peek through the portal that the bird came through only to see… blue sky and farmland? Popping his head back to his world, he gets the foreboding feeling that something is not right and begins searching for his ex-girlfriend for some advice. Soon, we get a glimpse of how strange this man’s world—filled with werewolves, bog monsters, and a mouthy little animal spirit named Harold—really is. As the mysteries pile up, Drum’s day goes from kind of weird to full blown bogus journey.
Despite that knee-jerk to blow off DRUMHELLAR as just another paranormal journeyman tale of crazy monsters and spooky ghosts, the work manages to sit head and shoulders above most other attempts to crack into this very specific subgenre. There are a couple of tried-and-true tropes, such as his ghostly, wise-cracking sidekick and a string of angry ex-girlfriends that somehow got tangled up with each other, but it manages to come off as a very deliberate story. DRUMHELLAR doesn’t just mix together a bunch of vampires and hot girls together and call it a day, instead it creates an entire, strange world for the titular character to explore. The work is a lot more open and rife with potential than other bizarre noir, mostly because the comic refuses to be simply noir. Jumping from comedy, to romance, to horror, fantasy, it won’t stand still and opens up the work to break out of the usual dour mold. It’s a bit like HELLBOY meets HELLBLAZER, meets BIG LEBOWSKI. By not limiting itself, DRUMHELLAR creates something more akin to the human experience. One filled with wonderment, heartbreak, bad jokes, and sometimes monsters—often times, monsters.
Of course, Rossmo’s art adds another layer to DRUMHELLAR, with beautifully placed bursts of color and a very obvious dot-style printing that was common with older comics. It’s not a traditional style in any sense and instead takes a bit from everywhere. The characters harken to a more small-press vibe with faint pencil markings with a touch of cartoon fun, while the sidekick animal (though it’s not clear what sort of animal) makes nods to Japanese manga. Even the placement of the panels is intentionally a bit off, creating open spaces that don’t entirely seem out of place, perhaps commenting on modern graphic design. Together, it creates something that is fantastically visually appealing without crowding the viewer’s vision.