As was recently announced, “Thrilling Adventure Hour” is making the leap to monthly comic books with two of their most popular segments: “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars” and “Beyond Belief.” Both hit new comics’ racks in February of 2015, but there are #0 issues available through the “Thrilling Adventure Hour” website. Tonight’s episode of “Beyond Belief,” titled “A Spirited Romance,” features the talents of “Thrilling Adventure Hour” co-creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker writing a tale prescribed expressly for artist Phil Hester. No, seriously. In the backmatter of this issue, Acker and Blacker mention specifically targeting Hester for this assignment.
They could not have been more spot on. Known for strong storytelling, dynamic figures and excessive application of chiaroscuro, Hester’s artwork is perfectly matched for the adventures of Frank and Sadie Doyle — or rather, Sadie Parker as she is known in this issue. Frank and Sadie have graced the archives of “Thrilling Adventure Hour” for nearly a decade, but Hester is graced with the grand fortune of drawing their first meeting. He also gets to draw behemoths from beyond. And puppies. All of this Hester handles with equal aplomb. Hester shows off a bit, giving Frank Doyle a subtle smirk as he bests his spiritual foe and gently wrinkling Sadie’s forehead as she realizes she is not a “ghost yeller.” Inkers Eric Gapstur and Mark Stegbauer keep the lines clean and graceful and the shadows rich and menacing, polishing off Hester’s pencils quite nicely in preparation for John Rauch’s colors.
Hester’s work would be fine in black (or gray) and white, but Rauch adds another layer of effect sizzle and supernatural chill through his colors, whether in the glowing eyes of the lead menace or ethereal decomposition as the ghost is returned whence he came. The colorist also works with Hester’s heavy shadows, adding lighting subtleties that would risk disappearing in grayscale. The visuals are quite tight on this book, giving readers just enough of what they can hope to expect from the regular series. Letterer Marshall Dillon even gets in on the fun as Frank Doyle is dropped to the floor with a “TOMPK” sound effect, suggesting Frank’s progenitor in the podcast, Paul F. Tompkins.
All of this wouldn’t be possible, or even remotely as entertaining without the work of “Thrilling Adventure Hour” co-creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker. Having written a few dozen or couple hundred adventures for Frank and Sadie, there is no better choice to fill the writers’ chairs. The writers balance threat and menace with wink and smile, filling this debut issue with a sassy start to the series. Frank and Sadie balance one another quite nicely, a hallmark of the show and a necessity for their appearance anywhere. Of course, Acker and Blacker also weave in the couple’s adoration of alcohol.
The best part about all of this, however, is that Acker and Blacker choose to start on the ground floor with this comic book series — with “Beyond Belief” #0. The “Thrilling Adventure Hour” podcast has alluded to bits and pieces of the Doyle’s courtship and coupling, but the “Beyond Belief” segments mostly focus on Frank and Sadie as established in their relationship, their shared love of drink and the knack to squelch unwanted supernatural advances. I’ve tried to point folks to the podcast, but quite honestly, this twelve-page adventure delivers a delicious encapsulation of everything I could possibly say to describe the show, but with Phil Hester art to boot. Yes, “Thrilling Adventure Hour” has been in comic book form before, but this is all-new and amazing as “Beyond Belief” #0 stretches back to the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Clink!