Sunday, 9 November 2014

Holocaust Rex Book Two by Wills and Kidd

First of all, I love Karl Wills, and have read and enjoyed his Princess Seppuku, and more recently, Holocaust Rex Book one, wearing a nasty little smirk on my face the whole time. Now, I suspect that grinning at Karl's peculiar sense of humour may label me a bit of a sick puppy, but I have a feeling that is exactly what the author was counting on.

Actually, I should say authors, plural, as although this book is drawn and formatted in Karl's usual style, Holocaust Rex 1 and 2 are both written jointly with Timothy Kidd. I'm not personally familiar with Tim's work (that is I wasn't, until I read this post by Kelly,) but regardless, the book retains Karl's distinctive wit.

The humour is not to everyone's taste. It won't make you laugh out loud, but it sure as hell makes you grin; largely because what you're reading would probably make your mother turn blue in horror, while decrying the "disgraceful" and "disgusting" state of comics. Because it IS shocking - it throws up casual, discomforting horror in a way that can only be described as gleeful.

What makes the violence particularly jarring is Karl's distinct drawing style; His bold black and white lines lay the foundation for a simple, cartoony look that suggest a far friendlier and old fashioned mes en scène than the one Tim and Karl have in mind. Even the quaint children's book sized 14x10 zine format helps to belie the gruesome tales within.

In addition, Wills makes great use of the increasingly "old school" comic book exclamations - communicating emotions in popping sweat beads, dizzy-spell squiggles and hovering thunder clouds, even as the characters suffer excruciating pain. I'm led to understand that these little squiggles have a proper name* in the comic world, but to me they're just another fantastic example of why comics as a medium are so powerful. Where else could a few dabs of ink give the effect of communicating painful dismemberment at the same time as providing cutesy comic relief?

Anyway, down to brass tacks. Holocaust Rex is set in medieval times, and where book one introduced us to our eponymous lead, this second book introduces two physicians, Hans and Enoch, and the town of Koch (how does one pronounce that name aloud, Karl? Tim?). And in fact Holocaust Rex barely makes an appearance in this issue, as the story veers off at right angles, in a way that strongly suggests that this series has a lot more in store than the usual brief Seppuku story. The physicians themselves are deplorable creatures and are employed on a journey through their beleaguered city, introducing us to a grizzly, horrid place, that one imagines would smell so gut-wrenchingly bad that a quick vomy would be a normal part of one's daily constitutional. Filth, plague and the medieval setting makes for a winningly gory combination, and one that the reader senses the authors are reveling in.

And Tim and Karl stop at nothing - witch burning, dissection, rancid corpses, facial fungus and whores selling their wares while vomiting up their innards. But although grotesque, it is more than just the juxtapositions which gives Holocaust Rex its comic relief.

For me, the arms-length distance with which the authors keep their characters gives the books a delightfully misanthropic feel. You are invited to observe humanity with an almost scientific detachment, in all our sadistic, inhuman horror, while at the same time actually seeing the real humour in that horror. Pulling off that little trick is both discomforting and wonderful, and no mean achievement. I can think of few authors who have done this as convincingly.

Finally, Holocaust Rex evokes a real sense of mystery. For all it's distance, the story really drew me in with its slick, solid beat, as in only a few pages, and with an efficient and choppy pace, it alluded to a much larger canvas. While I loved Karl's short previous works, the thought of something longer makes my mouth water.

 In short, Holocaust Rex makes for a winning combination. Great art, great storytelling and a wicked sense of humour. It is not a series for the romantically inclined, or soft-hearted, but for the rest of us sorry bastards it makes for one brilliant wee comic.

Just don't let your mother catch you reading it.  

Get Holocaust Rex here.

Amie Maxwell Faction co-editor  

* I looked this up - brilliant!