Merrick: The Sensational Elephantman

merrick-coverThought Bubble is the North’s premier Comic Con and for my money the best event of its kind in these fine Isles Of Albion. The convention has been steadily growing in size and reputation since its arrival almost eight years ago and it’s attracting some of the big names in the field of sequential art as well as providing an opportunity for a huge number of independent small press creators to get their work into the faces of the more discerning comic book fan. It is an event I enjoy immensely, with the added bonus that it’s virtually on my door step. I particularly relish prowling the small press tables looking for something new to take my fancy and that is where I happened upon Merrick. Fickle as it sounds my attention was drawn to the Merrick:The Elephant Man stall by virtue of the very rad Suicidal Tendencies shirt that the chap behind the table was wearing. I then noted that the Merrick shirt was a Black Flag rip, clearly this book was the work of a punker. With my interest piqued I had a quick chat with the books author Tom Ward (he was the fellow in the Suicidals shirt) decided he was a good bloke and I promptly laid my money down and grabbed issues 1 & 2 and a nice new shirt.

Please forgive the shit pun but lets address the elephant in the room first of all. To say this book has a bit of a Mike Mignola influence would be a bit like saying Bl’ast thought Black Flag were ‘OK’. Everything from visual aesthetic to creative content clearly owes a lot to Mignola’s work, to the point that when I showed a mate of mine he immediately thought it was a new Hellboy related title. There’s nowt wrong with wearing your influences on your sleeve and the familiar style of Luke Parker’s artwork certainly helps establish the tone early on simply because it’s so relatable to other genre material like Sir Edward Grey, Witch Hunter or the aforementioned Anung An Rama.

Moving past that, lets examine the book itself. Each issue is a limited run of 500 copies and is printed on good heavy paper stock that lends each issue the feeling of a quality product rather than a cheap and cheerful self published affair. My copies were hand numbered and I was really impressed with the physical quality of the book.

Scriptwise it is sharp and to the point and filled with enough period colloquialisms to create a brooding sense of Victorian atmosphere. Obviously it’s early days for the book and the first couple of issues of any comic involve a lot of stage setting.For those of us already familiar with John Merricks story this may perhaps be a tad laborious.That is until Tom throws in some nice curveballs in the shape of diabolical plots masterminded by Masonic lodges, sworn oaths of vengeance and the intimation that Merrick possesses unique abilities as a result of his severe deformities. Yep I’m in lads.
Despite the aformentioned Mignola’isms, it would be remiss to understate the impact of Luke Parker’s artwork. His style is perfectly suited to the material and immediately establishes the sinister tone and tempo of the book. His panels are brooding and haunting not clumsy nor cluttered and he makes great use of negative space and detail to lend visual atmosphere to Tom’s story. Merrick invokes the weird spirit of Clarke Ashton Smith or Lovecraft as well as the old Batman Elseworlds comic Gotham By Gaslight.  It is really encouraging to see a book like Merrick emerging from the UK indie scene and I am stoked for Issue 3 to arrive because I feel that with the foundations laid down, now Tom & Luke can really let rip and take Merrick’s story into the realms of the truly grim fantastic.

We will be interviewing author Tom Ward in the very near future but for now go visit the Merrick website and you can read the first issue online for nowt!!