Joe R. Lansdale, the chief editor of this ambitious graphic anthology, proclaims it “one of the most unusual and outstanding books ever done in the field of comics.” I’m not entirely sure I agree, but do like and admire WEIRD BUSINESS a great deal. It displays an amazing range of styles, and was executed with no small amount of skill.
The opening piece is “Gorilla Gunslinger,” scripted by Norman Partridge with artwork by John Garcia. It’s far from the best of the book’s 23 tales, but is a fairly enjoyable comedic western about--yes--a simian gunslinger. Next is the Poppy Z. Brite-penned “Becoming the Monster,” a veritable 360-degree shift in tone about a disturbed man’s perverse obsession with a cyber-killer, visualized in appropriately lurid fashion by Miran Kim. These two wildly mismatched tales adequately set the tone for the rest of the book, which delights in upsetting expectations.
Included is an adaptation of a musty Robert Bloch story called “That Hell-Bound Train,” not one of the better efforts of the late Mr. Bloch (to whom WEIRD BUSINESS is dedicated). It’s hampered by an over reliance on a twist ending that delivers little, although the artwork, by three different artists, is stellar. The tale is book ended by “The Steel Valentine,” a noirish tale scripted by Lansdale himself with art by Marc Erickson, and writer/illustrator John Bergin’s stark “Coccyx,” an unforgettable evocation of ugliness and despair set in a wasteland riddled with desiccated skeletons.
I also enjoyed “If I Close My Eyes Forever,” a sexy and disturbing account of a woman detective’s descent into the lesbian underworld, scripted by Charles De Lint and drawn by Pia Guerra and William Traxtle, and Marc Paoletti’s “In Repose,” an elegant psychodrama set in Victoria England with truly stunning artwork by Michael Lark. Also praiseworthy is the Al Sarrantonio scripted-Doug Potter illustrated “Man With Legs,” about two kids in a creepy house and the dark secret hidden within.
I wasn’t all that enamored with “And I Only Am Escaped to Tell Thee,” a perfunctory depiction of a mariner caught in a maelstrom (based on a story by Roger Zelazny), although the muscular artwork of Bob & Theodore Spoon is quite fine. The E.C. Comics-inspired “Franklin and the Can of Whup Ass,” about a put-upon nerd’s revenge on his tormentors, is done up in a fun old-school style by Tom Foxmarnick that unfortunately never succeeds in overcoming an uninspired narrative.
The book’s stand-out entries are based on tales by two long-departed masters. First is a full color rendering of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” adapted by Eric Burnham and pictured by Ted Naifeh, that’s downright gorgeous to behold. You likely know the story already, and this adaptation unforgettably highlights the sense of creeping darkness that makes it a classic. Then there’s “Oil of Dog” by the inimitable Ambrose Bierce, illustrated by Dean Rohrer. It concerns a potion made with dead dogs...and, inevitably, people. It represents Bierce at his nasty, cynical best, and is well adapted to comic form by Neal Barrett, Jr.
Yes, this is an extremely wide-ranging volume that’s not a little uneven. But it’s also the only anthology to contain stories by Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Neal Barrett, Jr., Robert Bloch, Joe Lansdale and Roger Zelazny (not to mention Michael Moorcock, Nancy Collins, Chet Williamson and F. Paul Wilson, who also appear herein), and in comic form moreover. For that, if nothing else, it deserves a look.