With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week, we’re taking a look at a relatively recent horror hit.
When TKO Studios launched, they had a relatively novel business model and some big name creators. Since then, they’ve made a name for themselves by publishing unique horror and thriller stories with up and coming creators. One of the biggest hits of the line so far has been Redfork, from Alex Paknadel, Nil Vendrell, Guilia Brusco, and Ryan Ferrier.
Six years ago, Noah McGlade took the fall for a crime he didn’t commit to give his younger brother Cody a second chance. Now out of prison, he returns home to Redfork, West Virginia to try to make amends for the time he missed. Unfortunately, a mine accident in the hills above Redfork is about to change the lives of Noah, Cody, their families, and the entire town forever.
Tony Thornley: So, we’re continuing our all-horror October with this gem of a book. This one came out late last year, and I jumped right on top of it. If I remember correctly, I was deep into listening to a horror fiction podcast called Old Gods of Appalachia and had just read the first issue of Paknadel’s Vault series Giga so this book was right in the intersection of my interests. I was creeped the hell out.
Brendan Allen: Oh, man. This is good stuff. One of the things that consistently surprises me is how many fantastic indie horror books there are out there that completely fly under my radar, when this is exactly the kind of stuff I’m looking for.
Tony: See, I knew you’d like this one. Paknadel does a great job of world building here. Redfork feels like a real place, but it’s not a good place. It’s broken and dying. The mining company that’s keeping it running is only doing it for deep, dark reasons that become clear later in the book. It might be a little, stereotypical dying Appalachian town, but I liked the setting. Taking two issues or so to really establish that was a strong start to the story, so when the supernatural shit started, you cared.
Brendan: There are a few horror settings that just hit me, every time. Deep water, outer space, and mines. Absolute darkness. Tight confines. Nowhere to run. Complete dependence on equipment. That’s the stuff that gives me cold sweats.
Taking the mining angle and throwing in the sort of backwoods Appalachia setting compounds the terror, when you start to realize that everyone and everything in the town are interconnected. Now, even if you do ‘get away,’ where the hell are you going to go? Who’s going to help?
Tony: Definitely. The series could have stuck with that and it could have stayed just as gripping. I really enjoyed the cast of characters too. The only character in the entire book that I would say is “good” is Noah’s daughter Harper. Everyone else is a broken person, whether it’s body, soul or both. He doesn’t shy away from the warts. Noah’s friend D-Ray is a user. His ex Unity is a thief barely scraping by. His parents are both dying. Again, is it a little stereotypical? Sure. But it helps us feel the desperation they’re all in when Gallowglass arrives.
And Gallowglass … The story’s boogeyman feels like something out of Stephen King. He’s disarmingly charming and ruggedly handsome. He got a devil’s bargain for everyone. And as the story progresses you realize that he doesn’t just have more going on that you can see — he’s evil on a level that’s just terrifying.
Brendan: I enjoyed every bit of Gallowglass’ character, except the name. Gallowglass were Scots/Norse mercenaries in the mid 13th to early 17th centuries. Scots historian Ferguson Cannan said Gallowglass “lived for war … Their sole function was to fight, and their only contribution to society was destruction.” That bit about destruction and war makes some sense in the context of Redfork’s Gallowglass, except that historical Gallowglass were mostly nomadic and switched sides easily, often fighting for both sides of a given war at different points, depending on who was paying more at the moment.
It just doesn’t quite fit for me. I preferred it once the beast was identified and named. That’s my own Scottish history hangup, though. It doesn’t hurt the story in any way whatsoever.
Tony: I get that. The name is eerie, but yeah, when there’s real world significance, it could take you out of the story.
Vendrell and Brusco did some great work on the art. They did their homework on what these depressed sorts of towns are really like. Everything has a layer of grime on it. You can see the years wearing on each character as they try to fight back against everything that’s pressing in against them.
The duo teamed up in a few places to great effect. After the mine accident, Brusco colored everything Vendrell drew except Cody’s phone-lit face in darkness, with just a little contouring and a few red outlines to depict the horror around him. It was a much more effective scare moment because of that choice.
Brendan: Visually, this thing is brilliant. It’s dry and crusty in the places where it’s supposed to be, and then gets slick and wet in other places. It’s one of those books you almost want to wash your hands after touching it, which is absolutely perfect for the subject matter.
Tony: Oh yeah, for sure. In particular, Vendrell’s depiction of the body horror was incredibly gross. Everything felt cancerous and twisted, like the body was trying to heal but couldn’t figure out how. He was also able to make the characters who took Gallowglass’ cure feel sympathetic and human, even as their bodies were becoming less so by the moment.
Brendan: That’s the kicker, isn’t it? The bodies have to be recognizable as formerly or partially human before they got all twisted up. Vendrell did an amazing job with that. The victims end up covered in tumors, goiters, cysts, and abscesses, but it’s clear that there’s a human form buried in there somewhere, buried deep under layers of swelling, pus, blood, and tar.
Tony: Yeah, it’s pretty gross but it’s got a great sense of pathos. So what was your verdict?
Brendan: I’m really impressed with this book. Reminds me of Needful Things, with the handsome stranger popping into town to offer the townsfolk their heart’s desires, then basically collecting their souls in return. But with mines and monsters and junkies. Shades of The Tommyknockers and Winnebago Graveyard, too. So many great elements. I’m for it!
Tony: Fantastic! What do we have up next?
Brendan: All these twisted up bodies have me thinking about the next arc of Bone Parish. Let’s head back over to The Big Easy with BOOM! Studios’ Bone Parish Volume II, by Cullen Bunn and Jonas Scharf.
Redfork is available now in print and digital editions and directly from TKO Studios.