Welcome to the inaugural edition of Small Press Sunday, a spotlight on the books, artists, and publishers that make up that “other” section of the comic book world. Whether the work is independently published, self published, amateur, professional, or even distributed through mainstream channels is irrelevant, we’re not here to split hairs over interchangeably used terms, we’re just here to talk some comics!
This week the spotlight is on Penny Palabras. As editor-in-chief, a lot of comics for review come across my desk, and of the latest batch none have embedded themselves as hauntingly into my mind as much as this one has. Penny is a very disturbed young woman, and her tale is told here by James Willard and Patrick Beavers. This isn’t a superhero story, but if you want to use that for a frame of reference, think of her tormentor, the Straw Man, as her arch-nemesis. She tries to act like he doesn’t bother her, but her nightmares bring her to the edge of death, and they never stop. Her life in this spooky book in fact seems to be one constant nightmare. Her supporting cast is filled out with more ghosts than it is living characters, as the strangeness of her condition and devotion to ridding herself of the Straw Man has warded off most normal everyday kinds of friends.
There are times I call her reliability as a narrator into question. Does she really see dead people? She can’t even tell if some characters are alive or dead, and many of them seem to know things they shouldn’t, or talk in singsongy “Oranges and Lemons” type verses that shift the tone in and out of reality. For me it all goes back to that first page, where she’s trying in vain to drown the Straw Man in a local river. What exactly was she holding under those waters? Is there an actually physical manifestation? Penny mentions binding and stones, but is this tangible or metaphorical? Could it even be her own reflection, or is there something she can actually shoot with the poetically named “Spectacular Revolver” that titles the first issue? I’ll tell you at least two things I am sure of. Number one – I’ll never look at the moon without seeing the faint visage of a skull again. Number two – after reading the first issue, I couldn’t wait to read the second, which is probably the best compliment you can give in all of comic book reviewing.
The second issue (or episode, if you will) “The Devils Weight,” is absolutely an escalation of the first. The real world consequences of whatever’s happening have become exponentially dramatic, so the weight of this devil is certainly increasing. Poor Penny is also faced with having to choose between the devil she knows and the devil she doesn’t, only there might not be any choice for her at all.
Why you’ll like it: there isn’t as much black and white as say in like The Walking Dead, but visually it’s told more through stronger and lighter shades of gray. Penny Palabras is relentlessly creepy, and is available here, or in multiple formats here.
To really dive into the series, listen to music inspired by it, or see how it’s made!