New To You Comics: Get An Indescribable High At Incalculable Cost In ‘Bone Parish’ Vol. 1

by Brendan M. Allen

When COVID-19 brought the comics industry to a screeching halt, my colleague Tony Thornley and I dove deep into our longboxes and collections to bring you New To You Comics. Comics made their way back, but we had so much fun with the thing, we decided to keep going. 

Tony and I have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his sparkly tights, super powers, and sci-fi. I tend to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, our paths cross, but we, like most readers, tend to stay in our lanes.

We’re here to break up the pattern a little. Tony’s throwing some of his favorites my way, and I’m sending him some of mine. Every title we cover is brand new to one of us, and every stinking one of them is available on digital and mail order platforms, in case your local shop is still closed.

This week, we’re digging into one of my favorites, BOOM! Studios’ Bone Parish Vol. 1, by Cullen Bunn and Jonas Scharf

Here’s what BOOM! Tells us about the book:

‘Cullen Bunn returns to BOOM! Studios with a chilling necromantic horror story.

A new drug is sweeping through the streets of New Orleans—one made from the ashes of the dead. Wars are being fought over who will control the supply, while the demand only rises. While the crime families wage war, users begin to experience terrifying visions of the dead coming back to life—through them.’

Brendan Allen: In Bone Parish Volume 1, Cullen Bunn takes all the appeal and obstacles of running a successful illicit drug operation and throws in a brilliant occult twist.

This new drug, Ash, offers the ultimate escapist experience. Ash-heads are able to dissociate from their own unpleasant, boring, and arduous lives, and lose themselves in the memories and experiences of someone else. Someone bolder. More successful. Richer. Better looking. An actual being who lived, but is no longer among the upright and breathing.

The catch? Loads. For starters, the formula for making the stuff requires cadavers. Then, there might be a few horrific side effects. Bad trips are only the beginning.

What’d you think, Tone?

Tony Thornley: Of all the genres Bunn likes to work in, I really think he does Southern Gothic best. And this one? Half Southern gothic horror, half crime drama? It’s a pretty fun read. I love just about any fiction involving voodoo and New Orleans, so this is just a blast from cover to cover.

Brendan: So many genres thrown together here. Crime procedural, mafia tropes, Southern Gothic, body horror…

The thing that ties it all together so beautifully is the way Cullen Bunn develops the characters and explores complex familial relationships. Haunted drugs, crooked cops, and the mafia, sure, but the really interesting thing for me was the Winters brood’s issues from within.

Tony: I think this book is one of Bunn’s strongest when it comes to building and establishing the characters. Honestly, outside of books like The Sixth Gun and Harrow County, he sometimes runs into the tendency to develop the world, concept and plot before the characters. Which I get, because often those stories are mini-series rather than ongoing series, so he’s getting to the meat of the story right off the bat. It’s not a bad thing, just that sometimes the format demands that it needs to be more plot or concept driven.

However, when he has the space to really develop the cast alongside the world and concept, his work really shines. That’s one thing I really enjoy about this story. He takes his time with the Winters family. He makes sure we know and understand each one of them. Every single member of the family is sympathetic and we understand what drives them. They each get a distinct personality. This is a family drama first, a horror story second, THEN a crime thriller.

Brendan: Absolutely. Family. Loyalty. Personal tragedy. THEN haunted drugs.

Tony: I also really dug the plot here. These four issues are a single self contained story arc, but they’re obviously just one chapter in the characters’ journey. It’s almost like an HBO show- six episodes in a season and they’re out, resolving the main story but giving us plenty for a follow-up.

We get a conflict (the cartel learning about Ash), and we get a climax and resolution. However, there are plenty of threads there that a reader would want to know what happens next.

Brendan: If you hadn’t brought that up, I would have. This thing goes three complete arcs, and each one has its own story within the larger set. You really could read any of them as a standalone and go away feeling like you had a complete experience. Don’t do that, though. Read them all. In order. 

Tony: Haha! This is also the first time in the column that we’ve covered a 4 issue volume that I didn’t think was a little too short. It’s a solid opening story for this crime saga.

Brendan: On the art side, this thing is just about perfect. Jonas Scharf and Alex Guimaraes nail it to the wall. They deliver an aesthetic that flips easily from gritty, dull reality to hyper saturated fantasy. The sets scream Big Easy, from the streets and alleys to the historic graveyards and plantations. 

That first Ash trip we see? That has to be the Lizard King, yeah? The snap transitions between the rock star hallucination and the grim reality of this dude acting it out on his knees in the filth of the street. It’s beautiful, and really sets the tone for the whole rest of the series.

Tony: Scharf really captures a noir feel, but uses that to transition into the horror. His designs are fantastic too. The lab when Ash is made feels equal parts crypt and mad scientist lair. He is also really good at letting the characters act and emote. The Winters family are all terrible people, but thanks to the art, I sympathized with them.

When a story is this dark and moody, some color artists lean too far into that. Guimaraes keeps the pages from getting muddy and overly dark. He makes sure the art stays clear, and captures the mood that Bunn and Scharf are setting. And I really love the ethereal glow he gives to the trips- whether it’s the ghostly women who tear apart the dealer at the end of the first issue or the visions each user gets. It’s sharp stuff.

Brendan: Oh, yes. Dante’s downfall. Don’t get high on your own supply, right? 

This first volume only hints at the body horror that comes down the line, too. There are so many facets to the story, and the art team really delivers in each arena, but also keeps the thing tied together visually as one cohesive story.

Tony: Yeah, it’s a good solid whole. It’s not my usual cup of tea, but I enjoyed it.

Brendan: Did I mention how much I love this story? I’ve said before that Bone Parish is a little like Breaking Bad and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein had a beautiful, horribly twisted baby. It’s a fresh take on several well worn tropes that haven’t crossed paths in quite this way before. While the elements of crime drama, horror, and occult noir are front and center, there’s a deeper story of family, loss, and betrayal.

We’re probably going to hit up Vols. 2 & 3 at some point down the road. There’s too much here to leave off after this.

What’s up on your queue for next week?

Tony: We’re going to look at one of my favorite runs on a favorite character we haven’t talked much about. We’re going to look at the first volume of the latest run on Daredevil by Chip Zdarsky & Marco Checcetto. You’re going to like this one. It’s right up your alley.

Brendan: Word. This should be fun. I have no experience with DD outside of the Netflix series. 

Some of your local shops have re-opened. As always, we’d like to ask that you first try to get these books at your local shop. This is a very uncertain time for owners, employees, and their families. Show some love for your community and friends by buying from your regular shop when possible and safe.

If your local comic store is still closed, not offering safe curbside pick up or mail order, or is out of stock on Bone Parish Volume 1, you can find a digital copy at Comixology for $11 right here. (If you have the Comixology Unlimited service, all three volumes are included with your subscription.)

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