July 2018 New Comic Discoveries: So Much Horror

By Zack Quaintance — Ice cream men, sunlight, sweethearts...there’s not usually anything scary about all of that innocuous and gleaming wholesomeness, but comics is comics, a skunkworks for ideas, and as such an enterprising group of creators has, indeed, made ice cream men, sunlight, and sweethearts scary. This is the central throughline of our three picks for July 2018 New Discoveries (the feature in which we finally catch up with comics we've been meaning to read). All of these stories take the precious, the quaint, the everyday pleasantness of being—and viciously mine them for hidden terrors, which, let's face it, seems appropriate for our recent times.

This is, after all, the odd and acrimonious year of 2018, wherein the news is a horror show and any attempt to understand the direction of the country by engaging with your neighbors is liable to end in a berserker bout of verbal combat. Maybe that’s why I found these three books so engaging...they contained ideas that seemed innocent, but, upon closer examination, were rife with seething dysfunction. If these comics are any indication, such explorations can yield fantastic stories (see also David Lynch, specifically Twin Peaks).

With all that in mind, let’s look now at our July 2018 New Comic Discoveries!

July 2018 New Comic Discoveries

Eclipse Vols. 1 & 2 by Zack Kaplan and Giovanni Timpano

In Eclipse, the sun has become an indiscriminate killer. A mysterious solar incident has occurred, turning sunlight lethal and forcing humans to spend the daytime underground. Old power structures have crumbled; new ones have risen in place. A mysterious group of albinos—immune to the light—have now appeared. They are murderous, engineered by corrupt societal leaders who are now targets of their revenge. Those are the high-minded things I like about the book. On a base this is really freaking cool level, I also dig the creative ways bad guys weaponize the sun, like using mirrors, poking holes in walls, etc. It’s scary and exciting stuff.

This book had been on my radar for some time, especially after writer Zack Kaplan’s other comics—Port of Earth and Lost City Explorers—were met with such enthusiastic reviews by many writers I admire and respect. This book’s concept essentially succeeds by turning the nurturing presence of sunlight into a lethal menace that exacerbates societal ills, ills that were easily ignored during less trying times, ills such as power disparities, corruption, and sacrificing the lives of those deemed inconsequential in service of the higher classes. This concept, of course, needs a grounded character-driven story, too, and Kaplan and artist Giovanni Timpano have definitely crafted one, one that is improving as their run continues. If only there were a fitting adjective to describe the exciting outlook for this book, to say the future of this story is...something. Oh well.

Check out our review of Eclipse #9!

Ice Cream Man Vol. 1 by W. Maxwell Prince & Martin Morazzo

There are so many good horror comics coming out right now (have you all read Gideon Falls? so good!), but, even amid the onslaught, Ice Cream Man by W. Maxwell Prince and Martin Morazzo stands out as exceedingly sinister, like if Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Serling, Stephen King and sometimes also David Cronenburg had a kid who grew up resenting the dysfunction of the suburbs and was now letting the pent-up angsty darkness flow. This is an anthology (I wish there were more of those...especially on TV, but I digress…), unified by the titular Ice Cream Man, who is, of course, always way way worse than he first seems.

Ice Cream Man Vol. 1 is excellent, and it’s a credit to this comic that through four issues nothing here becomes predictable. Not its structure, its characters, its themes. It’s sort of like The Twilight Zone in that all you know at the start of each installment is things fall apart. This, I think, speaks to our throughline of looking closer for dysfunction in 2018. I hadn’t realized this before, but the Twilight Zone was created after decades of American’s questioning each other, looking for commies or fascists or Soviet spies, etc. With a similar climate now, stories where horror lurks beneath a shining veneer are poignant as ever. Whether Ice Cream Man was conceived with this in mind isn’t relevant—the fear of what's being hidden is both real and compelling.

Sweet Heart #1 by Dillon Gilberton, Francesco Iaquinta, Maco Pagnotta & Saida Temofonte

For the third choice of our New Discoveries list each month, we spotlight a less-known book or a Kickstarter project, and this month it just so happens to be Sweet Heart by writer Dillon Gilbertson, artist Francesco Iaquina, colorist Maco Pagnotta, and letterer Saida Temofonte (the Kickstarter for Sweet Heart #2 runs through Aug. 10, btw). Gilbertson shared the first issue with us, and, man, is it a great fit for this list, turning childhood—and the traumas that occur—into a horror story with a fantastic mystery at its center. Simply put, Sweet Heart is a great comic that deserves to scare and disquiet a larger audience.

Gilbertson’s use of an omniscient narrator is understated when it needs to be and creepy as all get out when a more threatening tone is appropriate. Iaquina’s art is a great fit too, with his monster designs standing out as especially impressive, and Pagnotta’s colors add quite a bit. There’s also an impressive confidence in this book that isn't always present in crowd-funded comic efforts, a sense that the team has an urgent story to tell. The book’s greatest strength, however, is its poignant central metaphor, which I suspect is about childhood illness (or maybe hereditary addiction?) but, really, has a universality to it. Basically, whatever dysfunction was in your house (we all had some), I’m guessing you’ll see it play out here. I recommend supporting this one, for sure.

See all our past months of new discoveries here. And check back to the site next week for our Best Debut Comics of July 2018 as well as our Top Comics of July 2018, too.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.