By Cameron Hatheway
When you're known as a person who reviews comic books and graphic novels, your email inbox tends to reach about 20-30 (or more) emails per day from both publishers and independent creators. It can become tiresome at times, rooting out overexcited press releases from publishers, or trying to be polite-yet-honest with amateur artists on why you're not going to review their comic because of the Comic Sans word balloons and wildly disproportionate anatomy. At the end of the day, perhaps a handful of the emails are worth your time, and you proceed from there on which projects you want to tackle or which people deserve a response.
Then once in a blue moon you get a solid recommendation from someone you know personally, who isn't a part of the comic community. My friend Chris knows I review comics, and he has a friend who is an illustrator. Chris reached out to me and recommended I check out his friend's latest project, U.D.W.F.G. Volume 1. "Because it's the first thing Mat Brinkman has worked on in 10 years or something." I wasn't familiar with Brinkman's work before U.D.W.F.G., but after reading his short story I felt like I was missing out on something amazing.
Standing at 8.25" x 11.5" with a nice dark glossy cover and beautiful thick paper stock, Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds (U.D.W.F.G.) is a great beginning for something that could be the next great comics anthology. A six-monthly fanzine with the second volume debuting this month, it's definitely worth checking out if you're a fan of horror or amazing art (or both). With works from Brinkman, Miguel Angel Martin, Tetsunori Tawaraya, Ratigher, and Paolo Massagli, no finer collaboration of minds so dark and twisted could be assembled for this first volume.
In Brinkman's "Cretin Keep on Creepin' Creek" it's like the reader is visualizing a heavy metal song filled with monstrosities and mayhem. Wordless from start to finish, we follow a grotesque mutilated arm attached to a lump of body as it appears to try and escape from its captors atop a shelf of oddities. Because of its failed escape attempt, the arm is transported to a pit of despair where it's tossed in, never to be seen again. The tone is extremely dark and sinister, as if we've been transported to one of Dante's levels of hell. While at first you're repulsed by the arm, towards the end you sympathize for it and its troubles. The story could just end there, but at the same time you get a feeling in your gut that the arm's journey will continue in the next volume. Brinkman's use of charcoal and smudges is splendid, for in a way the final result haunts the reader's mind long after finishing the story.
Next is Martin's "The Emanation Machine," a science-fiction story following two unusual beings as they come across a dying explorer. Before the explorer dies, he hands them the key to the Emanation Machine. It seems he gave it to the wrong guys, fort they proceed to go boozing, screwing, and gambling at a nearby city. Only after being accused of cheating at Russian roulette do things get hectic, as they're on the run before being cornered and vulnerable. Martin's illustrations were really fantastic, for the alien world he creates is visually stunning and pleasing to look at. The content is a little raunchier in this story, but at the same time intriguing due from what they drink to the ways they spread their seed. While it did its job cleansing the mind from the previous story, it also stayed engaging and creative.
Perhaps my favorite story in the collection, Tawaraya's "The High Bridge" focuses on fantastical beings fighting to the death on a high bridge, with the spikey-headed loser being cocooned and delivered to a few different bizarre beings. The reason I loved this story so much was because of Tawaraya's intricate use of stippling throughout the entire story. The effect was just so cool and mesmerizing: like ingesting LSD and proceeding to witness gladiators on a far-off planet battle themselves and their environment. The levels of imagination and creativity in this story are off the charts.
Ratigher's "Five Mantles" took a different turn from the other stories, feeling more like a combination of anime and video games in both design and feel. We follow a ragtag team of misfits as they try to find their way out of this underground world that they have no memory of entering. Behind every door is either danger or safety, with the members in the group taking turns opening the doors. It did have a Dungeons & Dragons vibe to it, with a twist ending that will hopefully be explored more in the next volume. The action sequences were intense, and overall the story kept your attention. Only this story and Martin's "The Emanation Machine" have word balloons, which does make for a nice break from the wordless stories when reading the entire collection in one sitting.
Massagli's "Hell" was definitely a trippy way to end the first volume, as it features a woman recently deceased running through the fields of Hell to arrive at the capitol. Massagli has a talent drawing the female form—albeit deceased and autopsied—but excels at filling his version of Hell with demons and creatures from the darkest corners of the mind. I spent minutes absorbing the amount of detail on every page in awe, thirsty for more. She meets a demon of importance who gives her an interesting gift, but what happens to her next is the bigger mystery for volume two.
I didn't know what to expect when Chris handed me U.D.W.F.G., but my gut told me I was in for something spectacular. It feels like the next Creepy or Eerie for a new generation, filled with raw talent and stuff of nightmares. In the end, I felt like I was being buried alive under dark, weird, fantasy grounds, and I loved every moment of it as the dirt filled my lungs.