“Haxan Lane” Proves Philadelphia Is Even Scarier Than You Thought

In between the veritable onslaught of unique and inventive autobio/memoir stuff that cartoonist Thomas Lampion has released over the past year or two, he’s also managed to take a side trip — down a grimy street and into a haunted house, at that — in the pages of his self-published ‘zine Haxan Lane, two issues of which have seen the light of day so far. Although “light of day” is a decidedly poor choice of words on my part —

Why, you ask? Well, this is a humor comic to be sure, but it’s one that goes bump in the night, and has very much a feel of a modern take on the Brothers Grimm to it, complete with “be careful what you wish for” and “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is” moralizing — but please don’t take that to mean it’s not a fun little ride, because it surely is. It’s just the kind of fun little ride that includes a 500-year-old cannibal witch.

Where there’s a witch there’s usually a black cat, too, of course — and Lampion’s black cat is a talking one called Werner, who starts as comic relief but ends up becoming the boss of our protagonists, typically broke punk kids Jack and Luci, who find themselves living in the house of horrors on Haxan Lane only because they literally can afford nothing else in the entire city of Philadelphia. Granted, it probably goes without saying that an entire house for $500 a month is going to have some strings attached, and that’s where that cannibal witch I just mentioned comes in — you guessed it, she’s the landlady.

Anyway, Lampion crams a lot of ideas into each of these 12-page minis, and they certainly look great : his thick linework is bold, slashing, and confident, his characters each have a distinctive look of their own, and some of his shading techniques are reminiscent of old school Zip-A-Tone. He’s been drawing a lot lately, and it shows : his technique is improving from project to project. A book like this is by definition entirely unserious, sure, but Lampion nevertheless approaches it with the kind of earnestness and zeal that mark him as being an artist very much committed to craft.

Still, what I think I appreciate most about this series — at least so far — is its refreshing unpretentiousness. At the end of the day, this is a comic that adheres to tropes and formulas that are about as tried-and-true as they come, and Lampion doesn’t try to obfuscate that with either narrative sleight-of-hand or postmodern navel-gazing. There are some nods given to relevant “real-world” issues like income inequality, gentrification, and lack of actual opportunity in urban areas, but they’re dealt with in an admirably blunt “hey, of course this is the way things are” manner that acknowledges reality as the basis of any and all effective fantasy. Props for, as the kids used to say, “keeping it real.”

I’ve always got time for comics that challenge preconceptions and norms, but you know what? Once in awhile it’s nice to just know what you’re getting into and to subsequently get exactly what you figured you were in for. You’re not too cool for this comic, and that’s great — but what’s even better is that it doesn’t think it’s too cool for you.

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Issues one and two of Haxan Lane are available for $5.00 each from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/vendors?q=Thomas%20Lampion

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative indeed if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

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