“Crusher Loves Bleeder Bleeder Loves Crusher” #1 : With Friends Like These —

Somewhere in the overgrown fields of soul-dead suburbia, your typical delinquent young teenage boy has made a new friend — but is his new friend only out for blood? And would that question lead you to assume said new friend is probably a vampire?

Spoiler alert : he’s actually a mutant quasi-anthropomorphic fuzzy mosquito (or something), so his lust for the red stuff is just as natural as breathing is to you or me. But maybe we’re putting the cart before the horse by pondering the (somewhat) philosophical questions at the heart of writer Thomas Stemrich and artist Patrick Keck’s new full-sized (and, for the record, self-published) comic ‘zine Crusher Loves Bleeder Bleeder Loves Crusher #1 prior to considering the work on its technical merits? I guess we are.

I’ve reviewed Keck’s work in the past, most recently his years-in-the-making solo graphic novel Peepers over at Solrad, and to say he’s always surprising is to sell him short : there’s a rich wellspring of creativity that he brings to every project, one heavily informed by traditional visual storytelling tropes and rhythms yet never less than utterly surprising for that fact; heck, I might even go so far as to say that getting readers to look at the familiar through an entirely, and singularly, unfamiliar lens is his greatest strength as a cartoonist. His narrative pacing and sense of panel and page composition in this one are downright cinematic, yet the metaphorical lens of his camera is almost always pointed, either directly or appealingly less than directly, where logic or reason would perhaps dictate that it shouldn’t be — the end result being that your eyes (and, I suppose, you mind) end up getting a full 360-degree view of what’s happening, but that view is served up in piecemeal fashion, which serves the twofold purpose of rewarding careful and attentive readers while converting the more, shall we say, casually involved into the ranks of the careful and attentive at the same time. It’s rather ingenious, it must be said, and it heightens the effect of splash pages like the one shown above by making them double as something of a “reveal” at the same time.

And what this book’s various and sundry “reveals” — errrr — reveal is, without exception, some seriously superb cartooning. Rich, inky, refreshingly un-self-conscious sequential art that doesn’t skimp on the details or cut corners, but most certainly does refuse to cross the line over into belabored or otherwise tedious over-rendering. Keck doesn’t show off, he shows — and that’s always the hallmark of somebody who’s genuinely firing on all creative cylinders. This kind of inherently smart approach also means that Keck is perfect for material that blends the everyday with the anything but, and if the brief plot “primer” provided at the outset of this review isn’t enough to convince you that’s exactly what we’ve got going on here, well — either your reading comprehension isn’t up to par, or my writing isn’t. Take your pick.

Stemrich, for his part, needn’t worry on that score as his writing most assuredly is up to the task here, and threads a pretty tricky needle between the emotional and the nauseating that takes some real understated finesse. For folks like myself who came of age reading too much Mike Diana, there’s a kind of tense sub-expectation that the “magic bug” is gonna turn out to be a perv and molest the kid at some point, but you can breathe easy : there’s actually a kind of bizarre quid pro quo of sorts going on here between boy and insect, each needing companionship for entirely different reasons — the question is, will they survive to remain friends for the long haul? Perhaps readers of Keck’s Patreon already know that answer, given this comic reprints material that first appeared on that site and continues to run to this day, if I’m not very much mistaken, but damn — I honestly think that even Patreon subscribers are going to want this print version, because Chris Cajero Cilla (a superb cartoonist in his own right) just plain knocks it out of the park with the job he does on the duo-tone screen printed covers in his capacity as print maestro of Sardine Can Press.

This comic is part one of two, so I suppose that means that there’s some small chance that the back half of the story will let the side down, but I think the odds of that are pretty remote — after all, tonally and thematically speaking we’re dealing with something pretty unique here, a hermetically-sealed world of its own where the line between grotesque and heartwarming isn’t just blurred, but obliterated altogether. I’m certainly anxious to see how it all wraps up — but I fully expect that, as with this issue, the wise move with the second one will be to read it on an empty stomach.

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Crusher Loves Bleeder Bleeder Loves Crusher #1 is available for $6.00 from Patrick Keck’s Storenvy site at https://patrickkeck.storenvy.com/products/31706515-crusher-loves-bleeder-bleeder-loves-crusher-no-1

Review wrist check – Yema “Navygraf Maxi Dial” riding its factory-issue (and amazingly comfortable) stainless steel bracelet.

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