Kid Lobotomy, the first release from editor Shelly Bond’s new Black Crown imprint at IDW Publishing, is just as weird and wonderful as you might expect. Bond is a Vertigo alum, working there for two decades before stepping into Karen Berger’s shoes as executive editor from 2013-2016. Those of us who grew up on Vertigo comics know them to be dark, daring and devilish, and this spirit lives on in Kid Lobotomy. Co-created by Peter Milligan (Shade the Changing Man, Hellblazer) and Tess Fowler (Rat Queens), Kid Lobotomy is a comic that expects intelligence and curiosity from its readers. It mixes high culture — it has a classic literary unreliable narrator, and references The Metamorphosis and King Lear — with low culture — along with sex and body horror that Cronenberg would love.
Kid used to be a musician, your regular Williamsburg hipster with an electric guitar, until one night when he starts hallucinating and decides he wants to take up the harp. His whole life takes a turn that night. He’s still acting like a rock star — crazy, wild, half naked with Union Jack underwear — but he’s not a star anymore. He can’t function well enough to be one.
His father, a wealthy hotel mogul, tries everything to fix him: medicine, psychiatry, rest and relaxation — even some strange magical rituals — but nothing works. Until New Lobotomy. It’s more than just the science of removing parts of one’s brain, it’s a shamanistic ritual, it’s art, it’s — well, it’s cannibalistic, too. But it works for Kid. Kind of.
Kid becomes functional enough that his dad gives him the Suites, the family’s flagship hotel, to run. (The Black Crown comics take place in the same universe, all loosely connected through the Black Crown pub, just down the street from the Suites.) This causes all kinds of family drama. Kid’s sister had her own plans for the Suites that Kid’s now getting in the way of. And Kid makes the hotel into almost a hospital, where he shares the science of New Lobotomy with hotel guests. It helped Kid, and now he wants to help others.
Except Kid still hallucinates. He’s happier and more functional, and obsessed with the tool that treated him, but he still can’t trust anything he sees. And neither can we, as readers. What parts of this story are real? What’s just in Kid’s head? Does it matter?
Fowler is constantly changing her layout and breaking through panels. The most coherent or classical layouts are actually those when Kid is conducting lobotomies. Small precise panels that contrast with the chaos around them. Her linework is visceral and gritty, and she’s just as good drawing handsome men with rock star hair as she is at body horror and Kafka-esque bugs. There’s a beauty and a darkness to her illustrations. It’s distinctively Fowler and yet also feels unlike anything else she’s done.
Loughridge’s color work is fascinating. Each page has its own overarching hue, which then fades into the next page’s color, and the next. Fowler and Milligan made each page a distinctive storytelling unit — one scene, or one particular location — so the color works to solidify those breaks as well as connect those pieces together to form the longer narrative. It’s all fairly muted, which works to soften the aggressive content of the page.
Kid Lobotomy is messed up, and it will mess you up. It is most certainly not for everyone, but if you’re into the bizarre and the beastly, give it a try. It’ll be a hell of a ride.