Published on Thursday, May 23, 2013

Alan Robert, who spent twenty years as the bassist for New York-based alternative metal band Life of Agony, is one of those really annoying individuals whose talents extend over multiple disciplines. You know the type; people like musician/filmmaker Rob Zombie and comic book creator/filmmaker Frank Miller. Not content with his music career, which included singing and song writing, Robert recently turned his hand to comics, with the well-received creator-owned miniseries WIRE HANGERS and CRAWL TO ME. He’s back with KILLOGY, a four-issue series from IDW Publishing, which, thanks to an inventive and media-savvy stylistic device, manages to play as half comic book, half horror film.

Robert is the epitome of a one-man-band. He’s credited as KILLOGY’s creator, writer, artist and letterer – only the editing and publishing aspects are beyond his purview. It’s a remarkable achievement by anyone’s standards, made even more impressive by the quality of the storytelling. Robert has come a long way since 2010’s WIRE HANGERS, which now looks simplistic and cartoony by comparison. Gone is the poor man’s Ben Templesmith imitation artwork, replaced by solid black and white line work that oozes atmosphere. With its heavy shadows and intricate crosshatching it’s self-consciously reminiscent of EC’s infamous horror output of the ‘50s, which scarred a generation of impressionable youngsters and led to a moral backlash the ramifications of which are still being felt today. Robert’s layouts have also improved dramatically, as has the subtlety with which he integrates digital effects into his pages. In short, he’s matured into a confident and highly distinctive comic book artist.

Another impressive element of KILLOGY, and the aspect that most obviously separates it from the herd, is the aforementioned stylistic device, that of incorporating the likenesses of real people into his artwork. In effect it means the story’s three main characters are ‘played’ by actor and quintessential mobbed-up wiseguy Frank Vincent, rock and roll veteran Marky Ramone, and actress Brea Grant. This technique isn’t new, of course; comics superstar Mark Millar is particular fond of it, having used Eminem’s likeness for the lead character in his WANTED miniseries (Mathers was in talks to play ‘himself’ in the 2008 film version, but the role ended up going to James McAvoy), and, more famously, recreating Marvel black ops supremo Nick Fury in the image of Samuel L. Jackson as part of the Ultimate Universe offshoot (a move that proved so successful that Jackson has assumed the role in no fewer than five films to date). The concept may be an old one, but rarely has it been done as well as in KILLOGY. Not only are the likenesses striking, Robert goes out of his way to riff on the celebrities’ perceived public personas (Vincent is a Goombah of the first order, Ramone is a fast-talking hippy, and Grant a psycho femme fatale). It’s all highly entertaining stuff, and, as mentioned above, goes some way to crossing the already slender divide between comic books and film.

While broader in scope than Robert’s previous efforts, KILLOGY’s story is still its least impressive aspect. In keeping with the classically-influenced visuals, the genre tropes on display are of the most tried-and-true variety. We have zombies, mummies, an ancient voodoo curse, an assault on a police station, and more murder, mutilation and mayhem than you can shake a stick at (not to mention a suitably apocalyptic denouement). It zips along at an admirably fast pace, and the various back stories are welcome, but its weighed down by the unwieldy narration. One of the central tenants of comics is ‘show, don’t tell,’ and while Robert is adept at the former, he also indulges to an unnecessary degree in the latter. The pages are drenched in words, inhibited the flow of the story with a wealth of unnecessary verbal detail. A more streamlined and stripped-back approach would have resulted in a leaner, more kinetic narrative.

Whether or not you’re a fan of horror comics (and Alan Robert’s breed of horror comics in particular), it’s impossible not to be impressed by the man’s sheer creativity. From relatively humble artistic roots he’s emerged as a commanding and compelling illustrator, who’s equally adept at small character moments and gory, grotesque double-page spatter-fests. His layouts are excellent, as are his colouring and lettering skills, and his ability to create and sustain recognisable likenesses is flawless. KILLOGY’s story sometimes trades too heavily in clichés, both in terms of its dialogue (the mobster vernacular is laid on particularly thick) and recycled tropes, and Robert would do well to cut back on the word count and allow his artwork to do some of the talking, but overall it’s a witty, inventive and fun horror/crime multimedia hybrid.

Score: 3 out of 5
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