Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bloody Chester

This is not a happy book, let me tell you, but it has lots of likeable and interesting elements, including a scrappy, durable protagonist, coyote people, a plague, a ghost town, a crazy prospector, and an unlikely romance. Bloody Chester is the main character, a young man named Chester Kates who is broke, is in constant trouble, and gets beat up a lot. He gets a lot of grief because he is pretty scrawny, and people tease him by calling him "Lady Kate." One day after getting out of jail he is hired by a Mr. Croghan to go to an abandoned town called Whale and burn it to the ground to make way for the coming railroad line, no questions asked. Seeing this paycheck as a way out of his cycle of woe, Chester takes him up on the offer. When he gets to the town, however, he finds it is not quite abandoned, though it is littered with bodies and haunted by eerie coyote men.

Bloody Chester is a collaboration between JT Petty and Hilary Florido, with colors provided by Hilary Sycamore. Petty is an author, film director, and video game writer who is probably best known for his horror works and the Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell video game. Florido is an up and coming artist, and this is her first graphic novel, though her mini-comics have been short-listed for the Best American Comics anthology series. Sycamore has done the coloring for multiple comics and graphic novels, many of them books from First Second.

Reviews of the book I have read so far have been mixed but rather positive. Publishers Weekly called it "a creepy, complex, and surreal mystery that also shines as a character study." The Stumptown Trade Review wrote that it "attempts to be several things at once. It is a ghost story. It is a western.  It is a mystery. And, for the most part, it works." The School Library Journal review commented that "the Western and the historical and the horror and the romance are pulled into a bouquet that is exquisite and more than simply palatable." On a contrary note, Diayll cautions that the book may be a little too intense for younger readers (it is suggested for ages 14 and up), which may or not be the case depending on the parent, and she liked the story very much, but she concluded that the book as a whole "fell flat on so many levels." Greg McElhatton called it "an odd book that’s hard to categorize" and added that "those looking for something a little darker, though, will probably appreciate the skill and thought" that went into the book.

Personally speaking, I thought that the art was apt for the story, at once expressive and sensitive. Also, I felt that there was much going on, and sometimes information got lost in the process of my reading, but I feel that this book invites at least a few re-readings to catch all of the nuances and  details. Although it is not for everyone (it has some swear words, racist slurs, and violence, not to mention the narrative itself is pretty bleak), I think that this book is a great piece of horror and suspense, and I appreciate the fact that it is not formulaic. There are not a lot of graphic novels I have seen like this one, and that speaks well of it and to the growing diversity of graphic novel fiction now being created.

A preview is available here from the book's publisher First Second.

Thank you for the preview copy, Gina!

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