Ceej Says… Tragic Tales of Horrere #1 review (Madius Comics)

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Publisher: Madius Comics
Writer(s): Rob Jones, Michael Sambrook
Artist(s):  Gareth Sleightholme, Alisdair Wood, Neil Ford, Alistair McLauchlan
Release Date: 14th November, 2015 (Thought Bubble Festival)

Those fine folks at Madius Comics just keep delivering the goods with their latest offering, horror anthology series “Horrere”, set for release at next month’s Thought Bubble Festival.  For this one, Robin Jones and Michael Sambrook have combined to pen four twisted tales of horror, each with an individual artist and distinctive visual style.  So far so standard, but with Jones and Sambrook on board, I’m confident that this is going to be more than just another generic horror anthology.  So, without and further ado, let’s see what we’re dealing with, shall we?

Up first we have “If You Go Down To The Woods Today”, illustrated by Neil Ford.  Ford’s impressive artwork is highly stylised, with a distinct black-and-white approach somewhat reminiscent of BCP favourite Luke Cooper – no bad thing, in my opinion. Jones and Sambrook have a lot of fun here playing with our preconceptions as a strange, shambling monster shows up on a quiet farmstead in the dead of night, providing a delicious finale that speaks to the sheer inventiveness of their writing.  While it can sometimes be difficult to tell a self-contained story in just a few pages, Rob and Michael do an admirable job of fleshing things out just enough for the denouement to really land, and providing a strong start that helps set the tone for the rest of the issue.

The next story, “The Aufhocker” with artwork by Alastair McLauchlan, is a bit of a conundrum.  Definitely the slightest of the four, it basically serves as a five-page set up for a bit of a silly punchline, but features some absolutely stunning visuals from McLauchlan.  The clash in styles is more than a little jarring, it has to be said; on one hand, you have truly gorgeous, almost photorealistic artwork from McLauchlan, and on the other you have a bit of a cheesy punchline from Jones and Sambrook.  Definitely an unconventional approach, but the punchline did raise a smile, and… again… that artwork.

The penultimate tale, “You Are What You Eat” features art from Gareth Sleightholme, who absolutely blew me away with his work on The King’s Leap, another Madius title set for release at Thought Bubble.  This story takes us into a post-apocalyptic future as the world struggles to find food in the wake of a zombie Armageddon that ended in all-out nuclear war.   Sleightholme does another stellar job with the visuals, proving that he’s equally adept at zombies as he is with swords and sorcery, and Jones and Sambrook’s straightforward script keeps things moving smoothly.  The story is solid enough, but in my opinion it’s the artwork that really carries this one.  Oh, and if “Soylent Green” is people, then you don’t even want to know what’s in newly-released “Smeat”.  Seriously, you really don’t.

The final story commands the bulk of the page count, and rightfully so, as it’s easily the most intriguing and well-rounded tale out of the four.  “Grimoire: Baby Bell Jar”, illustrated by Alisdair Wood, sees Melissa (“Fin”, to you) delving into her past as she returns to the small town where she grew up to try and find some answers about the unexplained murder of her father when she was a child.  Wood has a scratchy yet expressive visual style that really captures the sense of horror in the tale, and the creators really embrace the supernatural aspects of the story as Melissa’s investigation puts her on the trail of a mysterious travelling circus.  A great self-contained story in its own right, all the way until the final page which offers an eyebrow-raising conclusion that promises “to be continued” next time.   Great stuff from all involved, and definitely a strong enough hook to carry a title on its own.

As a side note, while the quality of both the writing and the artwork is consistently high throughout, I’m not entirely sure why this hasn’t simply been packaged as a third instalment of Papercuts and Inkstains, (Madius Comics’ existing anthology series), which also includes more than its fair share of horror.  Granted, the first and last stories are in a slightly more serious mould, but the second and third contain exactly the same offbeat sense of humour as P&I, and their tongue-in-cheek mentality makes this feel a lot less like a “true” horror anthology.

A minor niggle perhaps, and as I said, the quality here is impressively high, providing another worthy addition to the rapidly-growing Madius Comics back catalogue.  Like most anthologies the quality ebbs and flows somewhat, but the sheer creativity and intelligent writing ability of both Jones and Sambrook definitely shines through here, with each of the artists providing a pleasingly different aesthetic for their individual stories.  This young publisher has barely put a foot wrong over the last year or so, and as they continue to churn out high-quality titles at an almost dizzying pace, they’re definitely cementing themselves as one to watch in the months and years to come.

Horrere will be available from November 14th at the Thought Bubble Sequential Arts Festival in Leeds, UK, then available from the Madius Site and available digitally to download from the Madius Payhip site shortly after.

The writer of this piece was: 576682_510764502303144_947146289_nCraig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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