The Underburbs #1
Written by TJ Dort and Joe Haley; Illustrated by Joe Haley
Rolling Boil Press; $3.00
Halloween is my second favorite holiday right after Christmas. If we got presents and the day off from work on Halloween, it’d probably nudge Christmas right out. I certainly anticipate it as much as Christmas every year. I start watching horror movies in September as my son is figuring out what he’s going to dress up like. Leading up to the big night, there are hayrides and apple orchards and Jack O’ Lanterns to make. Then on the last day of October my wife takes the boy out into the crisp night air to collect his loot while I stay home to pass out candy and watch Bela Lugosi movies. What could be nicer?
Because I have all these fond emotions wrapped up in Halloween, I’m a sucker for comics like I Luv Halloween, Cryptics, and The Super Scary Monster Show. I love books about cute, little monsters or kids dressed as monsters. Anything that captures that Halloween atmosphere for me. So, when I saw TJ Dort and Joe Haley’s table at Wizard World Chicago, The Underburbs immediately got my attention and I had to stop.
They’ve got several issues out, but I was trying hard not to spend all my money so I resisted the impulse to just buy the whole set. Instead, I flipped through the first one and immediately fell in love with the art. Haley’s got an attractive, manga-influenced style that pulled me in and made me want to spend time in the setting he and Dort created. Hoping that the writing wouldn’t disappoint, I decided to buy the first issue, but made sure I knew where to get the others online in case I liked it. Having read it now, I’m definitely going back for the rest.
The Underburbs is the story of a gloomy little girl named Angela. She’s depressed because it’s Halloween night – her last Halloween night as a Trick-or-Treater – and she’s stuck home sick with a cold. Her only entertainment is watching the other kids from her bedroom window and criticizing their costumes.
As she mopes, her brother and his loser friends try to open a portal to the underworld using a spell they found on the Internet and a hibachi grill in lieu of an alter. The spell doesn’t work, but a portal opens anyway, put there by a vampire girl named Winifred (but don’t call her that; she prefers “Countess”) and her demonic minion Bruce… er, the Hammer. The two of them are determined to take over the world of humans, even though Winifred’s dad and the rest of monsterdom have long given up on the idea. Winifred converts Angela’s brother and his friends into her minions as Angela watches, so Angela takes it on herself to stop Winifred’s plans.
The Underburbs isn’t a slapstick book and it isn’t a spoof. It’s a very funny comic, but the stakes for Angela are real. She’s such a charmingly snarky character though, and Winifred is such a little pill, that you can’t help but grin as you read about them and cheer Angela on. The other characters are great too. I’ve already mentioned Angela’s dumb brother and Winifred’s father who’s only interested in “dad” things like monster politics, the Evil Trade Commission, and protecting Winifred’s step-mom from Winifred’s caustic tongue. There’s also Angela’s hip mom and a wolf-man who hates the taste of people.
My only complaint about the book (and I’m serious about that; it’s otherwise perfect) is that it’s damn hard to find. The guys told me at the convention that I could get the other issues at their DeviantArt page, but I can’t figure out how. Maybe I misunderstood them, or maybe I’m just not familiar enough with DeviantArt, but the only thing I can see that they have for sale there are some prints of Angela and Winifred. They have a cover gallery that shows six issues, but no way to buy any of them.
I can see from the ad on the back cover that they used ComiXpress to print the book, but the ComiXpress site only has the first three issues and I’m pretty sure I saw more than that on Dort and Haley’s table. Their email address is listed on the inside front cover of the book, so it looks like I’ll have to contact them that way and figure out how to buy more. Which is really a shame, because a comic this good should have an audience. And it could if Dort and Haley didn’t make it so difficult to acquire it.