A review a day: <i>The Molting</i> #1-5

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Terrance Zdunich, the writer and artist of The Molting, sent me the first five issues of his self-published comic recently. It's a 12-issue mini-series, so this isn't a complete story, but what the heck, I can still review it, right?

Brian Johnson colored the first four issues while Molly Rodman colored the fifth, and Oceano Ransford lettered the sucker. And it's a pretty decent comic, I should tell you.

Zdunich tells us on the back of each issue that The Molting is "the portrait of a dysfunctional American family in the early '90s," which coincidentally is when Zdunich was attending high school in southern California, where the book is set (more specifically, Anaheim). It's uncanny! That's okay, though - write what you know, right? We haven't gotten a good reason yet for the book to be set in the early 1990s, though - maybe we will, maybe we won't. It doesn't really matter, I suppose.

The first issue is actually set in 1961, in a desert town where two teenagers - Susie and Tony - have been orphaned and sent to live with their uncle and aunt. It turns out their aunt and uncle are just scheming to take all the property the kids should inherit when they come of age and they don't like the kids all that much. When Tony and Susie try to go into the attic to get their mother's stuff, their uncle tries to stop them and horrific violence ensues. Susie, the only survivor, is made a ward of the state, but she runs away a few years later and hitches a ride right out of there.

The rest of the series takes place in 1992, as Susie has grown up, gotten married, and given birth to two sons - Trevor and Joseph - and retreated further into a creepy shell. Susie is obviously damaged, but so is everyone else in the family, so it's not too out of place. Issues #2-5 show Joseph dealing with his life - he and Trevor do a little light thievery; Trevor hooks up with Sandra, who appears to have more on her mind than just banging Joseph's brother; Joseph's teacher inspires him to start drawing instead of just scratching crudely on his desk; cockroaches infest the Pryzkind house, which becomes an increasingly creepy issue. There's also some odd connection to hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic era, but we're not sure what it is yet. Zdunich is telling his story slowly, which is kind of neat but also means that, as this isn't even halfway finished, it's hard to see where he's going with it.

Zdunich does a nice job with the characters - he doesn't overwrite things, and we get to see what the characters are like through their actions - Trevor is more noble than he appears, the kids' dad is sadder than he appears, and Susie is far more insane than she ... actually, she appears to be insane, so the fact that she is isn't surprising. Zdunich does an interesting thing with the parents - whenever they argue with each other (which is often), Zdunich (and Ransford, the letterer) doesn't show what they're saying, he just uses a lot of grawlix to turn it all into white noise. He drops in enough words and uses stuff like "@$$" so we can get a bit of a gist of the words, but mostly it's just the brutal buzz of arguing, and it helps set the scene of what life is like in the Pryzkind household.

It's an odd device, but it works well (and Zdunich doesn't do it to cut out bad language, as he uses it freely in other places). He lets his art tell the story a lot, which is nice, as well. There's a real sense of creeping menace in these five issues, even though we're not quite sure where the story is going. Zdunich has done a good job creating these characters and allowing them to run free through the story, and it works nicely.

Zdunich's art is interesting, as well. In the first issue, it's in an odd style, a bit simplistic with the line work and very sparse with the details (considering it takes place in a rather bleak desert, that's not a bad thing). Zdunich, however, is drawing in this style because the issue takes place in the 1960s, so he's contrasting it with the early 1990s stuff, which is much different. It works pretty well, even though he doesn't go back to it too much once he's in 1992 (there are a few brief flashbacks to Susie's life and the hunter-gatherer pages, but that's not a lot). The "modern" style is heavily photo-referenced (Zdunich even shows a model on his blog), but Zdunich, Johnson, and then Rodman do a good job "roughing" it up to make it less slick and more impressionistic. The coloring helps, as parts of the book (not only the creepier parts, either) are colored unusually, with strange choices for the scene that lends everything a slightly surreal tone - it's very effective. We see that this is all happening in a mundane place like Anaheim, but the coloring helps add an extra layer of menace to everything.

I don't know how long it takes Zdunich to produce an issue (he began publishing these in 2009, so it can't take too long), so I don't know how long it will take for him to finish the 12 issues of the story. But these five issues are a good beginning, and the only problem with them is that they're very much parts of a whole, so we're still not quite sure what's going on. However, each issue does have some very cool aspects to it, so it's easier to deal with the fact that they're chapters of a greater work. You can find them at Zdunich's store - the first two issues are listed at $7.99, which is a bit high (they're 31 and 32 pages long, respectively), but they are very professionally done, with good solid paper stock and nice coloring, so I imagine that drove the price up a bit. But head over to the site and see if what the prices for all five issues are together - maybe there are deals to be had! I can't completely recommend this because who knows if Zdunich will completely screw up the story, but so far, it's a good, unusual horror-ish comic, and it feels like there's a lot to learn about this oddball family and their secrets.

Tomorrow: A comic that makes me so angry! Believe it!

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