I've been a fan of the Dark Horse series Colder ever since I stumbled upon the trade collection for the first series and gawped at its now-famous cover where central character Declan Thomas appears to be running his own fingers under the skin of his face. Juan Ferreyra is one of very few horror artists I can think of who can give you utterly skin-prickling revulsion while keeping you staring at the Botticelli-like beauty of his figures and colors. And horror, of course, is a comic genre that breeds great artists, inspiring and setting loose their imaginations into the fantastic. Even so, Ferreyra is such a gem.
When I heard Colder was coming back, I was delighted, and spoke with writer Paul Tobin about it last autumn at New York Comic Con. The series started arriving in the autumn in single issues, and we even ran some previews here on Bleeding Cool that really were enough to make your hair stand on end through the suggestion of some of the images, even through unlettered artwork. Now I've finally gotten the chance to sit down and read this second volume of Colder, titled "The Bad Seed" at once, and you don't have to wait long either since it's arriving in shops this week on Wednesday, June 17th.
Reading the book is such an all-inclusive experience of strange logic, narrative, artwork, and alluring color that separating out the threads of your journey through the story takes some thinking. One thing I'll note that was a new discovery was how well paced this arc of Colder is. It actually has several "movements", and while it is building toward an over-arching confrontation, there are really solid plot-lines taking place throughout that are relevant to the whole. That has the effect of making the narrative feel unrushed and nothing you are seeing is there as a delay tactic just to keep the reader's mind spinning until the conclusion of the story. This is not a book that knows what "filler" is as every panel has something to say about the characters and the nightmare world they are struggling against.
This is a combination of strong writing from Paul Tobin, who has so firmly delineated the characters while leaving so much about them, and particularly Declan, unknown, that side-trips into Declan's past (as occurs in what I'd call the second "movement" of the book) are incredibly rewarding for fans rather than just taking the place of exposition. The story is about insanity because it is about Declan in more ways than we may have even realized in the first arc.
I think it's possible that readers having only read the first issue of "The Bad Seed", or what is the first chapter of the collection, might have missed out on just how the book was going to develop. The first issue seems very much about Declan and Reese being in a relationship, with all the awkward, goofy conversations that ensue between them and friends about this relatively new development, and though it's also about Declan discovering ways to use his powers to help people, the future chapters of the story build so steadily that a real sense of having journeyed into another mentally-affecting world only takes hold of the reader in issues 2 and 3. In these issues/chapters artist Juan Ferreyra increasingly blends the "normal" world with the excursions and intrusions of the new villain Swivel, aka, the man of a million fingers and sinister hat. Oh, and a gory finger-lopping instrument.
Let's talk more about the artwork and the horror of the book. It's clear that Tobin and Ferreyra have developed a really harmonized relationship for working in their co-created world of Colder, because you get the sense of their imaginations playing off each other with only the constraint necessary to keep the plot moving generally in the right direction while keeping true to their goals. What I mean is that they allow themselves to follow a lot of psychological avenues that seem instinctual, dream-like, and somewhat untamed, in the sense of proceeding from the subconscious. Which, is of course, much more terrifying than exploring a world that makes sense, as Alice in Alice in Wonderland would agree.
One of the focal points for both Tobin and Ferreyra is Swivel, whose speech and thinking, with an almost nursery-rhyme and Farmer's Almanac quality has very little bearing on logic but everything to do with the connections the mind makes when half awake. In the artwork, we see Swivel constantly morphing, changing, displaying new ways to exploit his strange physiology and abilities. I personally adore how "neutral" Swivel is as a character. He is no stereotypical evil villain in the way that he thinks or acts–his dream-logic renders him both childlike and horrific in his imperatives.
Colder: The Bad Seed is a book where you'll see new and bizarre products of Ferreyra's imagination in virtually every panel, lurking in shadows, hanging out randomly, actively pursuing our characters, curiously interacting with the narrative. I compared Ferreyra to Botticelli earlier, but anyone who knows their Bosch knows that Ferreyra takes the nightmare world in Colder to a new level by creating the sense of a constantly-shifting and sentient environment peopled by monsters. In this book, you'll also finally begin to unravel all the mysteries behind Declan's existence and be surprised by Reece's reactions and questions along the way. And the lopping off of fingers–I've only barely mentioned that, have I? For sheer artistry in discomfort, watch out for the fingers.
It's also of note that the trade collection of Colder: The Bad Seed also contains a Colder short story in prose by Paul Tobin and a cover gallery with discussion of choices on them. I highly recommend that you look out for the book this week and go back to read the first arc of Colder if you haven't already, as well.
Hannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter.