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Best Comics of March: Lovecraft and the Horror of Growing Up

Once a month, the amazing staff at 8th Dimension Comics selects a pile of the best new releases for us to peruse and judge.

Hair Shirt

This month I eschewed single issues to focus on a trio of brilliant graphic novels. First up is Hair Shirt by Patrick McEown, the Eisner Award-winning artist of Grendel fame. Hair Shirt follows two extremely damaged young college students as they return to the small town they grew up in and end up trying to rekindle a childhood romance. John is a talented art student struggling with a bad breakup and a long history of unresolved personal issues manifesting in horrible dreams.

Naomi seems on the surface less neurotic and broken, but the abuses she suffered growing up with an alcoholic abusive father and her cruel, sexually sadistic brother have her sabotaging her own happiness at every turn. It's the ultimate in indie film pain, walking a small but memorable cast of characters through the agony of second puberty as the adults they become have to finish clearing out confused and hurtful moments of their past.

It's a dark read, with John's nightmares in particular being bloody, awful and haunting. The tale is as bleak as the future for those who can't escape their homes to find a wider world beyond. McEown allows only the faintest slivers of hope in the shuttered doors at the end, which may be the book's best message. You have to face your fears, but John and Naomi must also overcome their own reactive cruelties. It's a lesson that doesn't get enough attention.

Rating: 8 of 10

Black Paths

David B. takes us on a romantic tale set in the odd post-WWI history of Fiume. In the aftermath, and among the shattered remains of many European countries, Fiume declared itself a free state and was run by the soldier-poet Gabriele d'Annunzio. Black Paths has all the hectic earmarks of Casablanca, or a spy-thriller version of Hunter S. Thompson's Rum Diary, and you'll love it from beginning to end.

David B.'s art and storytelling are superb, mimicking the pulp comic stories of Fantomas that his main character, haunted soldier and writer Lauriano, dreams of crafting. He and his band of former infantrymen are holed up in Fiume enjoying the chaos of the artistically centered but politically tense and riotous town, until he falls in love with a young singer named Mina. Seeking to put his past to rest, he launches an art heist as a means to escape into a new life.

Black Paths is an incredibly cinematic work, and you'll be casting Audrey Tautou as Mina in your head the moment you meet her. If you're a fan of a certain kind of French romanticism and fatalism in art, then it's definitely the book for you. On all sides gleeful madmen dance as a city falls down, seeking both personal gain and strangely innocent artistic integrity. It's a hell of a read.

Rating: 7 of 10

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

It's been something of a renaissance for H.P. Lovecraft comics over the past couple of years thanks to SelfMadeHero and their wonderful anthologies. N.J. Culbard illustrates The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, one of Lovecraft's best stories.

It follows a young student who ends up fascinated by a recently discovered necromancer ancestor. Like any good Lovecraft hero, he delves too deeply into the unnatural and ends up trapped by horrors undreamed. His saintly childhood doctor is the only hope for his salvation.

Charles Dexter Ward is one of Lovecraft's better and more fleshed-out characters, a tragic boy who truly meant no harm. The story is also one of the few to feature a woman in any capacity, the heartbroken ancestor of Ward forced to marry the sinister Joseph Curwen against her will. It's her equally distraught fiancé who leads a force against Curwen that ends his evil for a span of years.

The real gem of the new telling is how wonderfully Culbard brings to life Dr. Willett, our narrator. Most of Lovecraft's narrators are really just empty mouthpieces, but the sad yet determined manner of Willett turns him into a strangely powerful hero. It makes his ending all the sadder. It's a tragic weird tale that will appeal to fans of Lovecraft and newcomers alike.

Rating: 7 of 10

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