Stillwater is the new creator-owned series from Image/Skybound that pairs writer Chip Zdarsky, one of the funniest folks in comics, with artist Ramón K. Perez and colorist Mike Spicer for this comic about a town with a unique secret.
Going into Stillwater #1 blind is something else. Obviously, the cover screams "horror" at the top of its lungs, what with the skeleton mom cradling a baby over a red background with dark roots that look like veins… but still. Until Page Sixteen, this could easily be a road trip buddy comic where the down-on-his-luck lead finds a connection to a long-lost family member and learns a life lesson. Zdarsky's characterization and dialogue are strong enough that I would have loved to have read that, but things do, of course, take a turn for the horrific in a surprising and inventive way. At every corner, Stillwater turns away from cliché, subverting expectations with a dynamic, engaging story.
Perez and Spicer are perfectly in sync with Zdarsky's script, delivering a beautifully illustrated comic that feels scarier at the end because of the way it completely avoids what people will expect a horror comic to look like. With a slight watercolor vibe, much of this comic is idyllic scenery as the characters set out on a road trip toward what they hope is a big payday and ends up being a nasty surprise. The bar scene, in particular at the beginning of the issue, which is subtly gorgeous with its blue and pink palette, is a standout scene from this team. Letterer Rus Wooton shines here as well with subtly chosen colors for SFX and understated dialogue balloons.
Stillwater #1 is a debut that blows expectations out of the water by making the characters feel real so that when the reality of their situation sets in, it feels all the more grave.