Shawn has it all. He lives in his father’s humongous mansion in Hollywood and gets everything he wants. But it’s not enough. Shawn wants to be his own person. But he has no idea what he wants to do with his life. The stress is killing Shawn and he finds consolation in horror movies. One night, Shawn comes upon Midnight Collectibles, a late night horror store. Shawn quickly becomes friends with Romero, the proprietor of the store. He seems friendly enough, but Romero’s got a secret: he’s a vampire! As he and Shawn get closer, their lives get stranger. Shawn must choose whether to go back to his normal life or continue on this terrifying, yet exciting, new course.
Bwillett sent me the first five issues of his comic, and there is a notable improvement from the first cover to the newest covers. The first cover is pretty good. I like that we have gothic lettering for “Midnight”, yet there is the more playful orange and yellow of “Menagerie.” The art style reminds me a bit of a children’s book, and I got a Goosebumps feels from it. Obviously, this is a horror series meant for a teen audience, which doesn’t take away the horror element but gives it a more upbeat, colorful feel to it. I rather like this tone given that too much modern horror has mute colors and a generic dark, photographic look. If you look at posters for older horror movies, they were colorful too and looked better. Not to mention, they had more action in them, which brings me to my next subject.
The first issue cover didn’t feel horror enough because of a lack of action. Sure, Romero hiding behind a curtain is creepy, but it’s not as scary as a screaming woman hanging from a hook while a crazy fat guy revs up a chainsaw. I might be nit picking, but I need a horror comic’s cover to really strike me and this feels meh. That changes with issue 3 though. It’s a much more dynamic cover and, while a far cry from the gory spectacle of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, makes it more enthralling. Horror can be subtle, but it also helps for it to be striking, especially in visual medium such as comics.
Now, judging by the covers, I’m pretty sure the art is going to be hit or miss with readers. On one hand, it looks amateurish and stiff; on the other, the bright colors and manga-style faces have a charm to them. I wasn’t a fan of the art when I first started reading, but the more I got used to the style, the more I enjoyed it. That said there are things Bwillett needs to work on.
The anatomy is probably the biggest flaw, and the reason why the art looks amateurish. Body movement is often weird and stiff. Look at this image for example:
Shawn must have raptor feet if he can run while doing the splits. You might say that his front leg is bent, but his torso is weirdly in front of us while his waist turns the other way. If you don’t believe this is a problem, try doing the pose while running at the same time. If you pull it off, congrats! You’re officially a contortionist and can now join the circus.
Consistency in body proportions and shapes is also a problem:
Shawn’s mother looks thinner and her shoulders shrink in the bottom panel. Also, his sister seems to grow an inch taller. You can tell by how she goes from making direct eye contact to looking down at Mom. Now, they are on a flight of stairs, so maybe they’re moving, but you can’t tell because there are no background details. And it still wouldn’t explain Mom’s shrinkage. Admittedly, this example is minor, but these inconsistencies are present throughout the comic.
What really irks me are the necks:
What the hell’s up with them? Sometimes they’re okay, but often they look too thin for the heads and the latter are positioned awkwardly. Unless they have rubber bones, I’d imagine the characters would feel uncomfortable if their spines haven’t snapped already.
Coloring is a mixed bag. Often, it’s done well. Objects and characters are colored realistically. However, sometimes a single color is used, often the color blue. It can make for emotionally scenes, but Bwillett overuses the single blue color to convey darkness. It’s repetitive, and inconsistent. Bwillett would do well to make night scenes more realistic. I would suggest using normal colors and dimming everything so that it looks dark.
With all these issues, don’t think the art is broken. In fact, Bwillett gets a lot right. Panel composition is very well done. Bwillett doesn’t use gutter space a lot. They often have the panels overlapping one another, which works to keep scenes moving organically. Action scenes are fast-paced, energetic, and never a cluttered mess. You might think you couldn’t have great action scenes with cutesy art like this, but Bwillett pulls it off.
Also, as much as I’ve been hard on character anatomy, Bwillett is really good at making each character look unique. Hollywood is a land of trust fund hipsters, film industry hierarchs, and weirdo motherfuckers. Bwillett captures all of this gloss and strangeness with each person they draw. It makes the world feel alive with individuals instead of empty with endless masses.
As for the monsters, they’re great. There are only two so far, Romero the Vampire and Rob the Werewolf, and they’re design is what you would expect: One is a pale, sexy looking European dude with gorgeous black hair and the other a hairy muscular guy. They’re cool looking though and are terrifying when the teeth come out.
Environments are detailed and need just a little more. The lettering is also good. I don’t know about you guys, but I love the increasing amount of indie titles that use regular letters that are lowered case. It feels more like prose and less awkward than ALL CAPS.
Once Bwillett improves the flaws, the art will either shine or send shivers down your spine.
Check out Midnight Menagerie from Comixology
Check out Bwillett’s website.
Follow Bwillett on Twitter.