October may be done and dusted, but horror comics are a year round affair as far as I’m concerned. Alright, so technically Blackbird isn’t a horror comic—it has a similar feel as Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina—but Jook Joint most definitely is. Either way, if these two creeptastic Image series aren’t already in your subscription box, you need to rectify that, like, right now.
Ten years ago, Nina Rodriguez got a glimpse at a world she wasn’t supposed to see. Ever since then she’s been chasing that high—literally, in the case of all the pills and alcohol she consumes—to the exclusion of the rest of her life. Crashing on her sister’s couch, failing to turn in her college applications, and bartending at a seedy joint, Nina feels hollow. A chance encounter with her supposedly dead cat, a hot boy who can turn into a dog, and a terrifying monster thrusts her into the world of magic she believed lost to her. But when her sister is stolen away by a giant beast and a magically-enhanced hunter sets her sights on Nina, she may regret her eagerness.
I’ve had Blackbird on my pull list for months now, based solely on Jen Bartel’s involvement. I just adore her art. She’s at her best here, with stunning splash pages and emotional juxtapositions. Colors, provided by Bartel, Triona Farrell, and Nayong Wilson, bring Bartel’s art from striking to breathtaking. I can’t pick a favorite panel—they’re all so…wow. Letterer Jodi Wynne has a lot of work to do to keep up with the narration, otherworldly speech, and run-of-the-mill speech bubbles. To her credit, the comic is easy to read and understand.
Sam Humphries’ story is as much pulpy fantasy mystery as it is a realistic look at twentysomething ennui and emptiness. Ostensibly Nina self-medicates because she’s unable to gain entry into the world of the paragons—this world’s version of witches—but that’s a smoke screen. Her mother died in a terrible car accident, her father is a verbally abusive drunk, and her sister is frustrated and disappointed in Nina’s lack of direction. Even without magic, Nina would still be lost in a fog of her own making. Which is what makes Blackbird so good. It has a heart and a truth it longs to tell.
Writer: Sam Humphries; art: Jen Bartel; layout art: Paul Reinwand; colors: Nayoung Wilson, Jen Bartel, Triona Farrell; letters: Jodi Wynne; design: Dylan Todd; edits: Jim Gibbons. The first issue of this ongoing series was published by Image in October 2018.
Dark magic lurks in a 1950s New Orleans jook joint in the Deep South as a coven exacts vicious vengeance on violent men. Mahalia uses her powers to brutally enforce her rules of respect and consent, and the women in her coven delight in retaliating against the men who break her rules. When a frightened mother, Heloise, seeks Mahalia’s help in stopping her abusive husband, Mahalia sets a trap from which he can never escape.
Tee Franklin is relatively new to the comics scene, but her most well-known comic, Bingo Love, was absolutely pitch perfect. In Jook Joint, Franklin has delivered yet another fire series. It feels cathartic, like Franklin was lifting a lifetime of trauma off her shoulders and onto the page. It’s empowering in a way, a story where women take men’s violence and turn it back on them. As grotesque as the acts of torture are, the men deserve every ounce of it. Alitha Martinez and Shari Chankhamma imbue Franklin’s script with fantastical realism. The art and colors are visceral and expressive, full of action and energy. Sometimes the shading and shadows overwhelm the art, but it’s lovely enough to look at that it’s hard to quibble. Taylor Esposito’s lettering is so well done you can almost hear the written words.
Thankfully, Franklin includes much needed trigger warnings for domestic abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. Jook Joint is disturbing and distressing, a swirling, sickening story that is as fascinating at as it is unsettling. It reminds me of another vengeful, witchy Image series, Vanesa R. Del Ray and Jordie Bellaire’s Redlands. Jook Joint isn’t a series for everyone, but if you like bloody revenge and gorgeously illustrated horror, you’re gonna wanna pick it up.
Writer: Tee Franklin; art: Alitha E. Martinez; colors: Shari Chankhamma; letters: Taylor Esposito; design: Justin Stewart; edits: Brendan Wright. The first of this five-issue miniseries was published by Image in October 2018.
Alex Brown is a YA librarian by day, local historian by night, pop culture critic/reviewer by passion, and an ace/aro Black woman all the time. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, check out her endless barrage of cute rat pics on Instagram, or follow along with her reading adventures on her blog.