For a few years back in the early 2010s horror mash up stories were all the rage. Take an innocuous but well known thing and mix it with a fantasy horror trope and a new hit was made. These were most evident through books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and probably a few others not written by Seth Grahame-Smith. Though that genre has been dormant for a few years, it’s come back quite well with the recent release of Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer.
Written by David Crownson, Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer takes place (appropriately) in 1860, deep in the heart of America’s days of Slavery. It opens with a slave family, the Edgefields, as they escape their plantation in search of a life as free folk. When they run afoul of a trio of shady white men, the Edgefields stand their ground only to discover that these men aren’t exactly what they seem to be. Luckily, a mysterious stranger, the eponymous Harriet Tubman, shows up to save them.
One of the things I liked most about the book is the humor. Within the first couple of pages, Crownson makes a joke at the expense of one of his characters and it’s brilliant because it serves a higher purpose than a mere moment of levity. In addition to setting the tone for the book, that initial joke lets the audience know that despite the heady subject matter, they’re allowed to laugh at the story. This is a necessary cue for readers like me, a middle class white man, during the times that the N-word gets bandied around. That word would (rightfully so) make modern audiences uncomfortable but was necessary to tell a story that borrowed heavily from the time of slavery and Harriet Tubman’s real-life struggle. Crownson breaks the ice early to alleviate any possible squeamishness.
The art on the book is superb. Courtland Ellis’ art is smooth, his figures realistic and graceful. There are no overly muscular men rippling through torn shirts. His women aren’t bodaciously disproportioned, and in fact have noticeably different body types. Ellis uses subtle facial expressions on his characters to portray emotions and tip the readers off to what they’re thinking, but he’s then able to go all out during the funny moments. It can be a jarring juxtaposition at times but really ramps up the humor.
The art isn’t perfect, though. Most of the pages are beautiful, however, there’s some panel progression that feels off. Some of the character movement is choppy and stilted, which is detrimental in a book that relies heavily on fight scenes. Thankfully, it’s easy to overlook because there are so many other things to enjoy but hopefully it improves as the series progresses.
Ellis also shines in how he draws backgrounds, notably in the way he uses large brushstrokes to signify foliage. It’s drastically different from mainstream comics and I absolutely love it.
My biggest problem with the book is the dialogue. While most of the characters’ speech is smooth and energetic, the story is sprinkled with one-liners that just seem trite and unnecessary. It tended to be more good than bad, though.
I also wasn’t a fan of the localized dialect. This was probably included to show how different groups speak differently and was effective in establishing the world the story takes place in. I felt like it slowed down the reading experience, forcing me to puzzle out what the characters were saying. I understand that I’m splitting hairs here and maybe sound a little pedantic but this was definitely my take away from the reading experience.
Also, I need to point out the book’s poor punctuation. Normally I don’t even notice the lettering in comic books but the fact that this drew my attention means that it really stood out. Granted, some of the punctuation choices may have been stylistic but there are some instances that are just inconsistent, making the lettering come off as lazy or rushed. Again, I have hope that this will be remedied in future issues.
Despite its flaws, though, one thing that Crownson gets right is the mystery surrounding Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer. His opening chapter focuses on establishing the characters. He doesn’t dive too far into why the vampires are chasing runaway slaves or even where Harriet comes from. We know nothing of her past, her upbringing, or how she knows how to fight. Crownson reveals just enough to whet my appetite but not too much that I lose interest and don’t return for the second issue.
Having purchased Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer on a whim during Free Comic Book Day (it was funded through a successful Kickstarter), I have no idea how to get a physical copy of the book. However, you can buy it in digital on Comixology and Peep Game Comix. And I wholly recommend you pick it up. Not only is this book a fun read but it’s also an interesting take on the horror mash-up genre and the life of one of the most prolific American humanitarians.
Imagine, if you will, a small peaceful town in Vermont, land of the Bed & Breakfast. Now mash it up with werewolves and a neon-clad savior intent on stopping them. Now envision that whole strange and twisted scenario in the hands of Adult Swim. That is Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter, and it’s coming soon to a television near you.
This past week at New York Comic Con I got the chance to talk to some of the folks that are a part of this project to see more on what this show is all about. The show stars Jon Glaser (you know him from Parks and Recreation, Girls, and Delocated) as the titular Neon Joe, who makes it his life’s work to battle lycanthropy in this tiny B&B-laden Vermont town. Also featured are Scott Adsit(30 Rock, Big Hero 6) as a colorful local who wants to be Joe’s BFF and Stephanie March (Law & Order: SVU) who plays, in her words, the “randy lesbian mayor” of the town.
The show was recorded as “the craziest miniseries of all time,” being chunked into five 30 minute episodes with a continuous storyline, which is a bit of a departure from the deliciously random 15 minute episodes on Adult Swim that we’re used to enjoying. “It’s just like Roots,” Adsit joked about the miniseries format. “With werewolves, definitely no vampires, we can be very specific about that” March added.
But the real fun is how the show even came to be in the first place.
“I was on Jimmy Fallon’s show I think it was 3 years ago maybe to promote the finale of Delocated, another show I made for Adult Swim,” said star and creator Jon Glaser. “And I wanted to do something just dumb to amuse myself for the segment and not have a straight interview, so I took the two articles of clothing that I own and that I use for live comedy shows in New York, one of which was a neon yellow hoodie and a knit cap from American Apparel and another of which was a pair of Coors Light sweatpants. And I just paired them arbitrarily and went on the show and I just said ‘I’m really sad Delocated is over but I’m really excited about my new project it’s called Neon Joe,Werewolf Hunter and I’m dressed as the character right now. And that’s really all we have right now but we’re excited to kind of figure out the rest.’ And that was 100% made up, it was a fake idea. It was not a real idea for a TV show I had, and I kinda thought at the time I could see Adult Swim knowing it’s a joke and saying it still sounds funny, could that be a show? And I said sure, and that’s what happened. So we had a meeting and they said why don’t you write a pilot and see if it’s something.”
Yes kids. This show was born from an arbitrary joke Jon Glaser made to Jimmy Fallon. That joke became a meeting, that meeting led to a character, and now we’ll be able to see the final product on Adult Swim.
“It’s really treated like a super dramatic show – it’s a stupid comedy” he said about Neon Joe.
That one joke and idea with a crazy set of characters was enough to draw a great cast of actors for the project, all of whom were trying pretty hard to tell us things without really telling us too much of the plot. Within a twenty minute timeframe, the show was described as being an epic miniseries with tones of Don Quixote and a little bit of Batman. “I would say it’s about our hero’s epic journey to himself. To return to himself as we follow his plights and his struggles” was what Stephanie March could tell us about the character of Neon Joe. As for the plot, “By the end you will know definitively whether there’s werewolves in this universe or not” from Scott Adsit.
“It’s Glaser sensibilities,” Adsit said about the show’s humor, “and Glaser is a brilliant original voice in comedy as far as I can see. Everything filters through him and he’s so incredibly funny in this role he’s created for himself. It’s really really a pleasure just to be on the set and watch him work through this script that’s really funny, and he’s really good at it.”
I also got to speak with Steve Cirbus (Delocated, Gotham) and Steve Little (The Heart She Holler, Adventure Time, Eastbound and Down), who play the town’s sheriff and janitor. The sheriff has almost a buddy cop relation with Neon Joe, with Cirbus agreeing with me (one sec while I praise my own ballerdom) that their relationship is akin to Commissioner Gordon and Batman. Steve Little had his own fun story on why he joined the cast:
“I had a good time on The Heart, She Holler, then I got an email about this and then I forwarded it to my manager because sometimes like you get something called Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter and you don’t know how to even process that. And then my manager was like ‘Oh! I love this!’ – you know, a testament to her.” He’d never worked with Glaser before so he wanted a second opinion, watched Delocated and jumped in.
Do yourselves a favor and watch this amazing trailer from Adult Swim:
Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter starts on December 7 and will play one episode per night through the 11th at midnight. Seeing a cast that has this much fun together with a plot as wonderfully twisted as this is, I can’t wait to start watching.
Cabin in the Woods. Woo!!!!
Do you like comedy? Do you like horror? What about hip, self-aware movies? Well if you like any combination of the three then go see Cabin in the Woods. What starts off as a typical horror story…. well, actually no, no it does not. It starts off comically with two business workers talking about something in a facility that is somewhere.
Seriously, this movie is so hard to talk about without spoiling everything. *Cracks knuckles* Here we go!