By Chad Fifer, Chris Lackey, illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard
It’s 1924, jazz-age America, and Lester Lane is busy living the dream; the casual racism, the crappy jobs, the constant struggle of getting the next gig as the 20s roar past. He’s now on the run, along with his bandmates gentleman pianist Hank Arvin and ‘Iron Willie’ on drums (so long as he gets his Panther Sweat… but it’s okay, his drinking days are in the past, this is purely medicinal).
Lane’s not so much burnt their bridges in Chicago as reduced them to ashes, after stepping up to play the hero, rescuing the damsel in distress, and decking the leering, groping mob boss Tony Carbone in the process.
Decking a mob boss is never a good thing, especially not here, not now. which is why the trio find themselves in deep, deep shit, on their way to the Illinois backwoods, chasing an unusual sounding gig offered by a preacher’s daughter….
Thing is, that’s merely the opener to Deadbeats, just the setup to get Lane on the road. Once they head out to the little town of Riverside, the darkness comes down, the residents look a little … weird, and there’s trouble brewing, big, nasty, Lovecraftian nightmarish trouble.
The funeral’s just an elaborate ruse for a summoning, the priest and his daughter aren’t necessarily affiliated with any of your common or garden religions, and everything very, very quickly gets full on zombie-ish….
And then the real story starts, and it’s a corker of a story, equal parts thrilling and horrific, and wrapped up in swathes of funny, funny lines. Because despite setting it up as a horror romp, it swiftly becomes apparent that this is a great, great horror comedy, with a sense of old fashioned Hollywood storytelling about it.
Culbard himself summed the book up so well on Twitter the other day; “What is Deadbeats like? Its Abbott & Costello Meet Cthulhu. Its Arsenic and Old Ones.”
And yes, it does have that old fashioned American vaudeville of Abbott & Costello and the Ealing comedy styles of Arsenic & Old Lace et al, but an even better comparison was put forward by someone online (and I’m damned if I can find it, but if it was you get in touch) with Billy Wilder. That’s absolutely perfect. The sense of tight plotting and wonderfully playful dialogue working here to relieve the tension that writers and artist build and build regularly, and oh so well.
In fact it’s often so well constructed that you keep being surprised by the comedy, such is the tension and thrills you get on the page. But make no mistake about it, this is a really classy and clever comedy; even if the funniest gags involve the drummer, either his continual lack of trousers (or pants as our American cousins call them) or his relegation to the role of triangle percussionist. He’s not happy about that, and it shows….
So, is the funniest bit in that page above the perfection of the music reaching a spectacular climax with a weak ‘TIIING’ or Iron Willie’s face doing so? Or both? Or maybe, just like Deadbeats itself it’s the synergy that makes it all so readable and enjoyable?
Ian Culbard and Lovecraft just seem to fit together so well, after his excellent adaptations of Lovecraft’s At The Mountains Of Madness and The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward. It’s somewhat looser than his current work at times, but still effortlessly creepy, wonderfully muted colours, simple storytelling on the surface, but doing so much of the narrative work. Excellent as always. But the Lovecraft connection isn’t just Culbard. If anything the authors are even more rooted in Lovecraftian lore; hosting the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast. This is their first collaboration together, but you really can’t tell.
And that’s what gives Deadbeats its real class, the balance, so difficult to get right, so wonderful when it is, between thrills and comedy, between writers and artist. It’s deceptively clever, so easy to read, so difficult to do stuff. Classy, funny, pure and simply great.