“Hot Damn” is right.
Ryan Ferrier and Valentin Ramon’s debut packs a lot into the first issue. Ferrier takes us on a tour of Hell as seen through the eyes of Teddy Graham, who is new to the scene and getting acclimated to the drudgery of the afterlife. Ferrier whips us through setup after setup, giving us a world packed with storytelling potential while unfolding Teddy’s backstory. Ramon’s work is crazy detailed and uses negative space well, with a style that falls somewhere between Geoff Darrow and Frank Quitely. “Hot Damn” #1 is a belly laugh of a comic book.
The issue offers a lot of story for your money; Ferrier and Ramon seem positively giddy to push as many ideas onto the page as possible. Graham is our protagonist, but he’s not a nice guy. In fact, he’s a drug binging, self-absorbed piece of crap. (He’s in hell for a reason!) For Teddy’s tour of hell, Ferrier appears to draw inspiration from Sartre’s famous quote, “Hell is other people.” He and Ramon offer up delightful characters, like Hell Control Room employee Marchosias: a wolf in sunglasses with wings and only a collar and tie, fond of the phrases “no chill” and “whassssssup.”
Ferrier and Ramon’s hell is a fairly civilized place, considering what it is. Heaven and Hell are businesses, symbiotically linked to each other. Good and evil are passe concepts; as Teddy learns, God and Satan “had their thing back in their frat boy days but they’re pals now.” Hell is a metropolitan enclave filled with the type of bureaucracy that infuriates everyone on the mortal plane: group therapy sessions led by goat-headed demons, hierarchies of possession and social status climbing.
Ferrier turns the story into a carnival of absurdity by mapping weird Hell specifics over rote ideas. We get a strip club called “Butt Stuff” that touts live camel births, pot smoking angels, a human possession with projectile vomiting, self punch-outs and a drink order at a bar that is too gross to type out but had me laughing for two straight minutes.
The comedy isn’t all on Ferrier’s shoulders. Ramon’s visuals are what sell a lot of the comedy. The artist knows when to go full gross-out and isn’t afraid to do so. The backgrounds of the book are filled with jokes that are just as solid as the dialogue. There’s a lot of detail here, and the colors have that powdery shadow effect that’s becoming prevalent in the industry, adding a softened aesthetic to the pages. The pages themselves are laid out straightforwardly, but that only adds to the absurd juxtaposition of these visuals. Satan shows up at the end, and Ramon designs the leader of Hell as a tea-sipping, cardigan wearing, bespectacled CEO sitting beside a fireplace filled with ice cubes and about a half-dozen industrial fans trying to keep him cool.
By the time the Hell Police show up with their purple dildos of justice, I was all-in on this series. Though you might need a strong stomach and a sense of humor shaped by Garth Ennis, I wholeheartedly recommend this debut. Ferrier sneaks in some depth, showing the emotional impact on Teddy as he realizes the lack of impact he made on the world and his inability to ever have an emotional connection there ever again. This is the true eternal damnation: being just within arm’s reach of everything you took for granted but can never again experience. Hell may be torture, but “Hot Damn” #1 is pure, gross fun.