Werewolves? Who needs 'em, right?
Recently, Ryan Colucci sent me a copy of his new graphic novel, Harbor Moon, which was awfully nice of him. This is an odd project, as the credits reveal: It's published by Arcana, which isn't that odd, and costs $19.95, which, again, isn't that odd. But here's where it gets weird: Colucci is listed as "writer, editor, producer," with Dikran Ornekian listed as "writer," Pawel Sambor as "artist," then Karol Wisniewski as "art director," Nikodem Cabala as "supporting artist," and finally, Brian Anderson is credited with "story." It's quite the production team!
Colucci has spent a great deal of time creating this book (check out the Harbor Moon web site for some interviews and such he's done about the comic), and while lots of reviewers have already had a chance to check it out (he debuted it in San Diego last year), it's hitting the stands on 23 February, if you're interested in checking it out.
Yes, this is a werewolf story, and I'm really not that interested in traditional monster stories - that's just the way I am, man! However, this is an interesting comic for a few different reasons - Colucci spins it just enough to make it entertaining, if not a completely unique take on werewolves, and the art is quite cool. In the story, a man named Timothy Vance ends up in the town of Harbor Moon, Maine, looking for his father, who invited him to the town but was then killed under mysterious circumstances. Vance finds that the townspeople, like any good townspeople in weird towns in horror stories, aren't particularly friendly to outsiders and not interested in helping him out - the sheriff simply lies to him about the presence in town of any O'Callaghans (his father's name). We know this has something to do with werewolves, but we're not sure what it is. Colucci does a nice job at hinting around at what's going on and dropping enough hints before revealing the true reasons things are happening - unlike long-running serials where one sometimes wonders if the writers have worked everything out before they start dropping clues (I'm looking at you, Lost), Colucci has to wrap everything up in one book, and he does a nice job balancing the need to explain things to us with the need to tantalize us with a mystery.
I don't want to give too much away about the story, but the writers manage to take very familiar werewolf tropes and twist them just enough - the werewolves are just people, for instance, both good and bad, even in monster form - that it's not too annoying.
What Colucci and Ornekian do well is give us characters who work pretty well even if they're not monsters - Timothy is searching for his family roots; Sheriff Sullivan and his son, Patrick, are trying to protect their secrets, even if they might go about it in an extreme way; Kristen, the love interest in the story, wants to trust Timothy but knows she might not be able to. The villains in the story are cardboard characters, which hurts the book just a little, as the book isn't really too much about the villains, so it's not too big a deal. Stories are more interesting when the villains are compelling, but for this book, Patrick is kind of the villain, and Colucci and Ornekian do a decent job with him. The book moves along well as Colucci and Ornekian drive the plot nicely, and while it doesn't rise too far above a standard werewolf tale, the writers make a good try and change things up enough to make it at least interesting.
Sambor is an interesting artist, with room to grow but with good chops already. He's influenced (perhaps) by Ben Templesmith, but his figure work isn't as strong or idiosyncratic. He definitely does better with "set pieces," I suppose - posed drawings of single people where he can take his time a bit. When he gets into characters interacting with each other, he struggles a bit more, but it's not like the art is awful or anything. As I read through this, I was expecting the inevitable showdown between the werewolves and the villains to not come off well, but it's better than I thought it would be ... although there are some issues.
Sambor draws the wolves very well, which helps the big showdown, but because he uses a lot of "special effects" (blurring, electrical effects, blood splatter), because the coloring on the book is naturally a bit darker, and because Sambor's male characters look very similar, it's often hard to tell what's going on. On the one hand, that's kind of neat, because it's a messy, quick battle, but on the other hand, it's hard to tell what's going on! Sambor does an excellent job setting the scene in the prologue, which takes place in extremely rural southeast Arizona - he mixes media very well, with standard pencil art, some watercolors, some computer effects, and some thick brushstrokes. Throughout the book he does this a bit (not to the effective degree that he does in the beginning, however) and even does a nice job when Timothy looks in an old book at making the photographs in said book look more authentic. As I mentioned, his character work isn't consistently good, but random drawings here and there make me think he can improve in that regard. And, also as I mentioned, his wolves are quite good - scary and fierce but not so monstrous we don't believe that they're human most of the time.
Harbor Moon isn't a great comic, but it's a very entertaining book, especially if you're inclined to like horror. I'm not a huge fan of monster fiction and I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It's a pretty cool comic, and I'm glad Colucci gave me a chance to read it.