“The New Face of Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy”
EVIL JESTER PRESENTS #1 (Evil Jester Press, December 2013) Anthology of short horror stories. Various authors and artists. 32 pages. Full color. $3.99 digital copy. $3.99 plus shipping and handling for print copies. http://eviljestercomics.com
That headline above is the slogan that greets visitors to the website for EVIL JESTER PRESENTS #1, which debuted on December 12, 2013. The good news is that Issue #1 delivers on the promise and deserves the attention. When you click on the link for press releases, a giant comic page greets (and threatens) you and gives a good indication of what the contents of Issue #1 will contain . . . . . . .
"I’m a hopeless geek with nearly 60,000 comics in my collection—much of it horror—so this is truly a dream project for me," said Taylor Grant, Evil Jester Comics co-founder and editor-in-chief. "For years I've wanted to bring back the types of horror comics I read as a kid and infuse them with the modern sophistication of today’s best horror writers. We have done just that.” As for whether or not EVIL JESTER #1 can achieve those ambitions - - - Grant is dead-on !
Author Jonathan Maberry begins the introduction to Issue #1 and refers to a developing writer’s imagination and style influenced in the formative years by a steady diet of EC Comics, CREEPY, EERIE and VAMPIRELLA magazines. He adds: “That’s probably where I learned how to tell a good horror tale. They didn’t waste time. They were mostly six, eight and ten page complete stories that jumped right into the plot and didn’t slow down until the last shocking panel.”
Issue #1 debuts with stories from noted writers Jack Ketchum, the same Jonathan Maberry, William F. Nolan, and Joe McKinney. Ketchum’s story ‘The Box’ , adapted by editor Taylor Grant with art by Beni Lobel is the opening offering, and a great choice as the text version was the winner of a Bram Stoker Award for horror writing. While all the stories in EVIL JESTER PRESENTS #1 are capable of inducing shudders that originate in the spine, nothing creates a full-body feeling of dread like ‘The Box’, which may continue to haunt long after the last page is finished. The tale is narrated by a father, who begins as a happy family member taking his wife, son, and two daughters on a Christmas shopping trip by train when an seemingly innocent moment of curiosity triggers a dramatic change in the family dynamic. This goes well beyond the tropes of dysfunctional families - - more like disintegrating families. Even in the most visibly adjusted families, we’ve all heard parents wonder if deep down they truly know and understand their children. ‘The Box’ takes that parental dread and projects it into a worst case scenario. As the distance between the father and his family members grows further and further apart the sense of isolation and loneliness is overwhelming. You’ll be making room for ‘The Box’ in your storeroom of memories, as this is a story that may linger on. Artist Lobel is very adept at portraying facial expressions and conveying the emotions that affect the characters in the story. Once bright and beaming faces turn pale and indifferent as the story progresses. Lobel also colored the story, and uses both warm and cold colors in the appropriate panels and scenes. Chilling, indeed.
The second story ‘Swallowed’ is also an adaptation of a Joe McKinney tale, done by writer Aric Sundquist with art by Esteve Polls. It’s a luridly illustrated story of a swampy residential area that creates extra-large events. When a formerly pet snake, now enlarged beyond python size, returns to its former homestead in search of nourishment there are surprises in store. This shorter story left me feeling clammy but I squirmed out of that because there were more stories to experience.
The next tale, from noted author William F. Nolan, brought back the feeling of dread with its speculative projections of a long-term alien invasion of Earth. If you were the invader and wanted to conquer a planet for the long haul, you might want to win over a major contingent of the population to your cause. Wouldn’t it be much easier to influence and then train younger, impressionable minds rather than focus on the adult population? That might mean needing to eliminate anyone over a certain age, oh, say six years old. As adapted by editor Taylor Grant with art from Salva Navarro (that brought back memories of Wally Wood and Jack Kirby) ‘Small World’ is not to be over-looked. The poor adult narrator of the story spends the entire time in flight from pursuit by the younger generation of . . . aliens? Guess again. This is the second favorite story of the issue.
Issue #1 concludes with ‘Like Part Of The Family’ adapted from Jonathan Maberry’s story by Aric Sundquist and Taylor Grant, with art by Nacho Arranz. What starts out as more of a crime/detective tale takes a dramatic turn and morphs into a completely different kind of story. An attractive woman hires a friendly detective to help enforce a restraining order filed against her abusive husband. Nothing and no one is exactly who they seem to be.
EVIL JESTER PRESENTS offers a nice blend of horror and speculative fantasy, and even manages to include some familiar monsters (with subtle changes). Twist endings. A general feeling of dread. Stories that get their point across in a minimum of pages and pack a punch. Congrats to editor Taylor Grant and publisher Charles Day! I believe you have pulled it off.