By Cameron Hatheway
Mat Brinkman, Miguel Angel Martin, Tetsunori Tawaraya, Ratigher, and Paolo Massagli are back in the second volume of Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds from Hollow Press. Ideated by Michele Nitri, the six-monthly fanzine first debuted back in March of this year, and just in time for the holiday shopping season comes the second volume. The stories from the "Foul Five" is a continuation of the material that was first introduced six months ago in the debut volume.
Even if you weren't lucky or fortunate enough to read the first horrific volume, there's still plenty to love and enjoy on the inside pages. Is it a good jumping on point for new readers? No! So go and buy the first volume and support independent creators, you schmuck!
Each artist's style is twisted and original, and like blood-spatter, no two styles are alike. Reading each story brings back a certain nostalgia of reading a horror/crime comic from back in the day that you knew you weren't supposed to, whether it be a copy of Tales from the Crypt or The Vault of Horror. Thankfully, you don't have to worry about appearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency after reading this comic (but you almost feel like you should anyway).
In Brinkman's second chapter of "Cretin: Keep on Creep'n Creek," things take an interesting turn from the first volume. We originally followed a grotesque and disgusting arm as it was tortured and thrown down a hole, and sure enough the arm's adventure continues down the vile sewer. The unexpected twist is the perspective of the storytelling, as I'm not sure that we've discovered the actual main character yet. This chapter reminded me of Istvan Banyai's Zoom book, where just when you think you've focused on one character or event, it's actually a small piece of a much larger puzzle. Same thing applies to Brinkman's story. His haunting characters brought to life by charcoal and smudges are still masterful, giving us a slight peek at this expanded world he's dreamt up. Word to the wise: don't eat the soup.
If the first part of Martin's "The Emanation Machine" wasn't bizarrely brilliant already, the second part takes this sci-fi setting into overdrive. The different shapes he deploys in his imagery definitely helps convey the uniqueness of this alien world, as strange as it may appear. The pregnant worm being we saw in the first part gives birth in this story, laying a plethora of eggs in a fish farmer's house. The eggs resemble dragon fruit, and roll every which way causing the fish farmer to grow impatient and violent. The quest for the Emanation Machine is still afoot, with the laying of eggs a slight detour in the plans. It was very amusing to watch the eggs roll everywhere and hatch, and although I don't 100% grasp what is going on, all I know is I'm enjoying the hell out of the story. It's a breath of fresh air, beautifully illustrated.
My favorite story of the last volume, Tawaraya's "The High Bridge" continues on a high note in all its stippled acid-trippy glory as a different lone warrior seeks the Golden Orphan. This chapter reminded me a bit like Alice in Wonderland in a way, with disturbing beings observing upon high their mushroom-like seats. There are more strange beings and epic duels this time around, with some literally mind-blowing reveals also sprinkled in for good measure. Much like "The Emanation Machine," you shouldn't drive yourself crazy trying to fully understand the story, but rather enjoy the gorgeous art and imagery provided by Tawaraya. It was my favorite story last volume, and continues to reign as my favorite this volume as well because of Tawaraya's endless creativity.
In Ratigher's "Five Mantles," things seemed to go by very quickly as our group of explorers make their way towards safety with an armed escort comprised of some furry and mysterious beings. Much like the first chapter, danger still lurks behind every corner in this labyrinth of a cave, and even the smallest of creatures pose the largest of threats. I was very disappointed where the story ends this volume, for the last page had me super pumped for an intense impending fight between the lost party and an unwanted guest. Ratigher's style of manga-meets-video games continues to be the highlight of his creative vision, and I only hope the fight is well worth the wait in the next volume.
Last but not least, Massagli's "Hell" continues to be a ludicrous, yet strangely intoxicating read as we follow a recently deceased demon spawn frolic through the fields of Hell. In this chapter, she grows hungry and finds a McHell to dine at, ordering an arm burger (not a McRib?) that doesn't appear to agree with her as she literally spews her guts out. The female form and anatomy continues to be worshipped in this chapter, even more so than the last. Every page consists of a naked demon of some sort, with an average of four nipples and an up-close vagina per page. Is the nudity overkill? Slighlty so. It did distract from the extraordinary backgrounds of Hell and the other demonic beings that roamed the landscape. While it felt like something noteworthy in the first volume, this time around it almost reads as pornographic. The intricate imagery continues to be enticing, despite being so explicit.
The first volume had artwork from Brickman's story highlighted on the cover and inside design, and this second volume has Martin's. Will the third volume have Tawaraya's, the fourth Ratigher's, and the fifth Massagli? That's what appears to be the pattern. If all five stories conclude with the fifth volume, that would feel appropriate, however I don't know if that's what editor Nitri has planned or not. Perhaps the anthology will go the route of 2000AD in where multiple stories start, conclude, and continue in each volume, bringing onboard new creators who fit the genre.
Whatever the future holds for U.D.W.F.G., I know that I'll be eagerly waiting with drool oozing out the corners of my mouth. It's one of the best horror comics/collections/anthologies out right now, and if they continue down this path of greatness, I have no doubt that they'll be a household name for art/comic fans this time next year. Speaking of next year, the third volume is being released in March, so you'd best get caught up before you get consumed by the darkness around you.