Penny Nichols: A Slings & Arrows For The Horror World

by Rachel Bellwoar

There are a lot of reasons why I love Penny Nichols but one of those reasons? Penny Nichols wasn’t a horror fan.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. Horror fans are great, but it’s so crucial that Penny isn’t a horror fan before she meets Sam and Bobert because that’s not how you end up making a no-budget horror film. People who’ve been passionate about horror all their life – they’re the ones who make those, right?

Wrong. Or not exclusively, but in the middle of a health expo where people are coming up to Penny and letting her know, to her face, that they don’t think she belongs there (artist, Matt Wiegle, has one woman stare literal daggers), Penny overhears Sam and Bobert chatting. After all the people she’s had to talk to, in the course of handing out samples of her sister’s green juice, running into them is like a lifeline in the desert but Sam and Bobert don’t treat her like a hanger-on. They’re as excited to meet her as she is to meet them and that is the first thing people can learn from Penny Nichols – you don’t have to settle for people being mean to you. You can require better for yourself.

The second is just because you never planned to do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t embrace it, if it feels right. Penny never had any show biz aspirations but when the guys invite her to join their production of Blood Wedding (and they genuinely want her to be a part of it) she goes for it, without knowing anything about filmmaking. Without having studied horror. Penny is willing to go into the project blind and it ends up being the best decision she ever made.

By being open to new things, Penny discovers a passion at 26 she didn’t know she had and that’s the beauty of this book. You don’t have to be a fan of slashers to find the enthusiasm Penny and her new friends have for making movies contagious. Getting to see the process and what goes into making a motion picture – it’s cool stuff. MK Reed and Greg Means have written some amazing characters. They’re all completely sincere, whether it’s the guy Penny goes on a date with, who desperately wants to be in a relationship, or the woman at the temp agency who advises Penny not to quit. Not everyone is going to be every reader’s cup of tea, but Penny Nichols embraces people for who they are. Whether you agree with them or not, they believe in what they’re saying.

That means complications, too. Penny sometimes shuts well-meaning people out. Sam has trouble delivering on his promises. In most books this would result in a fight but instead Penny Nichols is about acceptance. Everyone is encouraging and while there are a few cruel characters (Penny’s roommate), Penny Nichols is realistic about money. That means Penny’s roommate is going to be an extra and Penny isn’t moving out.

Sam reminds me a lot of Marc Maron’s character on Glow, except happily married. I love the excited crouch Weigle gives him, where his hands are balled into fists and it looks like he’s about to jump for joy. There’s a lot of dense dialogue in this book yet Weigle’s letters give the words an energy that mirrors the energy of the characters. There isn’t a background character who isn’t telling a story, with the expression on their face, and a scene in the editing bay offers a fun chance to play with the inks used to render Reed and Means’ narrative to life.

A Slings & Arrows for the horror world, Penny Nichols goes on sale June 11th from Top Shelf.

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