Canadian cartoonist Jay Stephens reimagines classic Harvey Comics to create this year’s most unique and twisted horror reading experience in ‘Dwellings’.
With its blood-splattered Harvey Comics-inspired universe and characters dripping in the saccharine aesthetics of American suburbia, Dwellings immediately became a book I was excited to get into when it was first announced. Luckily, the wait is over, and having a chance to read through the giant-sized issue I’m happy to announce right off jump that it was well worth the wait! Written and illustrated by Jay Stephens, the project originally started as a Kickstarter distributed by Black Eye Books and, luckily for those of us who didn’t catch the original run, has now been picked up by Oni Press. Each issue will be made up of two stories, Dwellings #1 gives us “They Know” and “Second Tongue.”
Retro cuteness and bloody gore make for a disturbingly nostalgic twinge.
In “They Know”, Johnny; a young man in the witness protection program, is confronted by his past when the brother of a criminal he and his family put away finds him and tries to enact revenge. In the scuffle, Johnny ends up murdering his aggressor and flees, with the only witnesses to the murder being a flock of crows that have joyously fed on his victim. Johnny unwittingly becomes their leader as they begin to follow him in hopes that he’ll provide for them again. As the crows feed his paranoia he becomes more and more willing to feed their hunger for flesh. The art direction in the opening short is steering the ship here, the classic cartoon-like characters and the idyllic setting of Elwich serve to disarm the reader and make us more susceptible to the gore on the pages that follow.
The writing is not without merit though. When we are introduced to Detective Royster we peel back another layer of mystery as she has only recently been reinstated to the police force after a possible trigger-happy incident led to an investigation on her work tactics. All this serves to create some great tension as she is tasked with investigating these current murders, which we quickly notice aren’t your run-of-the-mill homicides and may be serving a greater evil in Elwich.
Drug overdoses, satanic cults, murder, and mutilation! Dwellings is not for children!
The evil in this town is put on full display in “Second Tongue”. Dawn Brava is a Harvard student who’s come to Elwich to study Brandon Dinehart—a patient with a rare case of “Foreign Accent Syndrome,” which is a totally real thing that’s the result of severe brain trauma. When she finds out the patient has been discharged before she can get her analysis she decides to try and connect with him regardless of the setting. As she’s investigating him, she notices he’s not all well after his brush with death due to an overdose. This quickly sends her down a rabbit hole of the occult and ancient evil variety– twists, turns, and a family history that deals in demonic possessions means “Second Tongue” is definitely the main course in this first issue of Dwellings.
Jay Stephens does a great job of matter-of-factly introducing us to characters and then sprinkling in backstory and supporting characters as the story goes on so they never feel one-sided and the town feels fully lived in. It is at this point where I begin to wonder whether any of the Elwich citizens are having normal days because whew this one was a doozy. Dwellings is genuinely disturbing in a way that all great horror is. It never feels overdone, instead, it just highlights the terrors of our world to serve up some new nightmares.
Dwellings #1 delivers an oversized 72-page helping of deliciously discomforting horror.
With some great moments and interesting threads laid out for us in this first issue, I’m interested to see if they tie into upcoming installments or if the open ends are there for us to ruminate on the possibilities and the horrors that may be lurking in our own neighborhoods. Dwellings #1 is in stores now and issue #2 is out October 11, 2023. I strongly recommend every horror fan have this in their reading pile, so grab your copy of issue one now!
Editor’s note: Due to high demand for the truly demented, Dwellings #1 has already gone to a 2nd and 3rd printing. The 2nd print arrives in shops August 16th. The 3rd print is due September 6th.
For more Oni Press coverage, you can get all the goods on their recent release ‘Lamentation’ here!