“Welcome to the Weird West.”
That’s the first thing I thought when I read volume 1 of Andres Salazar’s comic Pariah, Missouri. For anyone who doesn’t know me well enough to tell, that’s a good thing. A really, really good thing. While I may not get many chances to play in it, Dead Lands has long been one of my favourite RPG settings, and the mix of western and supernatural influences in Pariah, Missouri, scratches the same itch for me. I’m by no means a fantasy purist, in fact the best way to describe it is that I love nothing more than having my chocolate (the fantasy genre) mixed with peanut butter (sci-fi, horror, westerns, whatever genre floats your boat). Note that this only applies to my tastes in fictional media (games, novels, movies, and so on)… bring any actual peanut butter anywhere near me, well, pray the gods have mercy, ’cause I sure as hell won’t. It’s not that I’m allergic or anything, I just really hate the taste of peanuts. Anyway, let’s get this back on track and into the actual review.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The story opens by introducing us to Hiram Buchanan, also known as Hy. At first glance, Hy is simply a dapper gentleman trying to make his fortune in the frontier town of Pariah, whiling the days away gambling while he waits for his opportunity to come knocking. However, as the comic tells us, “You learn something quick in Pariah… Appearances are deceiving.” When a pair of mysterious entertainers arrive in town and people start disappearing, Hy doesn’t hesitate, he dives right in and starts investigating. Of course, he can’t do it on his own, and quickly gathers allies, recruiting them from the outcasts of the town, including Nellie, a woman who has lost ownership of her hotel due to debts inherited from her father; Jean, an African-American man come to town to avoid trouble with the law back home (a more historical term for his race is used in the comic, but I’d prefer to not use it myself even though it is correct for the time period); and Toro, the half Mexican-Comanche Indian bounty hunter. The story in this first collection is strong enough to stand on its own, but I think the cast of characters is what really makes it shine. While I get the feeling that Hiram is going to be our primary protagonist as the story continues to unfold, each of the characters is interesting enough to hold my interest in where their individual tales will go. As an introductory story arc, this book does an admirable job. It establishes the setting and mythology, introduces the protagonists, and wraps up the initial plot nicely will also baiting the hook for future stories in such a way that I can’t help but be excited for the next collection. If I have any complaint, it’s that I had a little bit of trouble figuring out the timing of certain events in the story in relation to each other (I’m still not 100% clear on when the first character to disappear actually did), but this is a minor issue and is also possibly related to the fact that my wits aren’t as sharp as usual lately due to issues with my sleep patterns. As I said, it’s a minor complaint at worst.
Now. Let’s talk about the art. Obviously, for graphic novels, artwork is very important. It’s one of the reasons I love the medium so much, because it relies on the artists being able to convey the story through their work as much as it does the authors being able to write the plot. The right art style can really make the story stand out. For example, Ben Templesmith’s work on 30 Days of Night is astounding. It’s chaotic, it’s disturbing, it’s utterly unique, and it perfectly captures the tone of the story Steve Niles is telling. It’s nowhere near realism, but it conveys the horror of the bestial vampires in that story. Contrast that with Steve Dillon’s work on Garth Ennis’ masterpiece of a series, Preacher (the first series I ever collected). His style is far more realistic, but still has some stylized features (the chiseled good looks of Jesse Custer, the hard as nails cowboy appearance of the Saint of Killers and so on) with clean lines and vibrant colours, which complements the serious but often darkly comical nature of the series, as well as resulting in the graphic violence having a greater impact, due to the clarity with which it’s displayed. I believe Andres Salazar and Jose Luis Pescador are a perfect match when it came to this series. Pescador’s fine lined and delicate pencil work makes the characters look like they’re part of a sketch from the time period of the story. At times the characters almost have the style of caricatures, not in an overly exaggerated manner, but just enough to make their personality and mood shine through. Interestingly enough, the colours are actually handled by Salazar himself. He’s used a beautiful watercolour style, and avoided overwhelming Pescador’s work with unnecessary colours, instead using a fairly washed out look, with one primary colour used in each scene, with one or two other colours being used as necessary to highlight certain elements of the scene. Despite the fact that each panel has one major colour, the skillful way Salazar has varied the intensity of that colour to handle the shading resulted in the art having a real sense of depth. It could have looked flat, but I think taking the gamble on such an unusual style really paid off. If I’m being nit-picky, there were a couple of pages where some of the sharpness and clarity of the illustrations wasn’t quite there, but this was barely noticeable overall, and I can easily forgive this given that it was literally a case of once or twice throughout the whole book.
So, how to sum it up? Well, the description Andres has for the series, “Buffy meets Deadwood”, is an apt one. I’d highly recommend it for fans of both series, as well as general western or supernatural horror fans. If you’ve ever played Deadlands and enjoyed it, this is a comic for you. If you’re interested in picking a copy up, and would like to consider getting volume two as well, Andres has a Kickstarter campaign running at the moment for books one and two to be released as hardcovers. I guess the strongest recommendation I can give is to say that as soon as I’d read half of the first volume, I went and backed the project to get the limited edition copies of both books. I enjoyed it that much, and can’t wait to find out what the future holds for the story. If you’re not sold on it yet though, you can grab preview PDFs of both volumes from the Kickstarter project page. You may also be interested to know that an RPG based on the setting has been created, and a PDF is available of it as an add on for the campaign. If I get hold of the RPG, I’ll definitely do a review on it after I get a chance to read through and put it through its paces.
Note: I was provided a PDF copy of volume 1 for review purposes by Andres Salazar. I would like to make it clear that this in no way influenced my opinion of the comic, all opinions stated here are my honest feelings on the quality of the work.
Written while listening to a few things, since I lost the draft I’d been working on the other day and had to recreate it. Primarily I was listening to the Dropkick Murphys’ album Signed and Sealed in Blood, but also a bit of the new Seether album Isolate and Medicate. Both excellent albums.
In regards to upcoming stuff, due to some pretty severe issues with my sleeping patterns having some knock on effects with my energy levels and creativity, the Unusual Suspects updates that I had been working on are postponed for the moment. I’ll probably be concentrating on reviews for a little while until I get things sorted properly, it’s just too difficult to concentrate on writing anything creatively taxing at the moment. Might try to get some interviews with some authors and game designers if I can as well, since I can do that mostly through email. Nothing concrete planned either way yet.