Thursday, October 11, 2012

Halloween Eve Review

Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder's Halloween Eve dropped this week.  Published by Image Comics, it was actually funded through Kickstarter over the summer.  So now that it's finally here, is it all tricks or is a treat?  Check behind the cut to find out!

Written by Brandon Montclare
Art by Amy Reeder

Halloween Eve is a somewhat peculiar book. For one thing, as you may have gathered from the title, it's a Halloween story, which while increasingly popular in general culture, is still not the most common thing around. And perhaps more notably, it just so happens to be a pretty endearing coming of age story that's all about growing up and learning about both who you are and how to be comfortable with yourself. The funny thing is, you don't really realize that's what this is until the story's over and done with.

Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder throw the reader in right in the middle of things, meeting the titular Eve as she helps put the finishing touches on a jester costume for her friend and colleague, Raymond. This quickly spins into introductions to the entire cast of characters, including two other employees, Ingrid and Bernado, and Carlos, Benardo's uncle who just so happens to also be the owner of the costume shop they all work at. We also learn that the main conflict facing our eponymous protagonist is that Eve does not want to wear a costume to work the next day, even though it is store policy. It might sound like a trifling detail, but pretty much the entire book is built on this concept (to a certain extent). We get all the information we need to follow and understand the story, but the whole thing is a little more rushed than it needs to be, making for a bit of a jarring beginning to the tale.

This quick pace holds true for the entirely of the book, but while its a little offputting at the beginning, it works quite well throughout the rest of the issue. It allows the story to flow along at a quick clip, and more importantly, it gives Reeder the chance to draw a whole bunch of amazing looking stuff in a short period of time and space, a challenge that she is more than ready for.

The more I think about it, the more impressed I am with the choice to set the story in a costume shop. Reeder really sinks her teeth into this setting, populating the shop with all manner of people, costumes, and objects. No single panel is wasted, with everything filled to the brim with most anything that could possibly be found in a costume store. The end result is one of the most robust and well-developed settings I've encountered in my comic book reading experience, which is an achievement on its own. It also allows for all kinds of little visual winks throughout the book, but Reeder and Montclare also make excellent use of the diverse setting elements in the latter half of the story (which I'll talk about shortly).

The costume shop also enables Halloween Eve to play with all kinds of different levels of symbolism. The degree of symbolism deployed throughout the comic is both a little heavy-handed and deceptively simple at times. It's an interesting balancing act that Montclare and Reeder attempt to strike here, as they sometimes serve up their meanings on a silver platter of obviousness, while at other times really forcing the reader to contemplate and think on things to truly appreciate the whole picture.

A good portion of this book is built on dream sequences (of a sort) and they are an absolute delight. Reeder lets her imagination run wild, creating all manner of fantastic backgrounds and characters while also basing virtually every aspect of these scenes in the world of the costume shop that she meticulously introduced and showed off in the first half of the book. As strange as it may sound, this surreal dream logic makes the whole thing feel more grounded in reality. This attention to detail, both in setting up these items and using them is also what really sets this book apart from the average comic.

Halloween Eve is clearly a labour of love on the parts of both Montclare and Reeder, and all that hard work really shows. This is a book that rewards close and attentive readings. There are plenty of little hints and cues buried throughout this book that can help you along and provide a deeper understanding of the story they set out to tell.

I'd also just like to take a moment to further compliment Reeder's great work here. Not only does she nail the world that these characters live in, but she provides just as much care and attention to the characters themselves. Her character and costume designs are quite exceptional, as she uses plenty of different body types and displays a key fashion sense in every outfit she assembles. This is put to extremely good use with Eve, whose many outfits say a lot about her character and how it evolves over the course of the story.

My only qualms with the book would be that Montclare's dialogue can sometimes be a little too on the nose and that there are occasionally issues with the word balloons. My nitpick with some portions of the dialogue is by no means a dealbreaker and is almost more of a matter of personal taste, but the word balloon is a little more serious.

Beyond all the art, Reeder also does the lettering in this book, and she brings a degree of looseness and experimentation that you won't often find in books from bigger companies. It's a nice departure from the normal, but there are a few instances where this results in unclear or ambiguous balloon placement that slows down the reading experience. There were a few times on my first read through or so that I had to stop to make sure I was following the scene properly. It isn't a dealbreaker either, but it does bear mentioning.

Speaking of bearing mentioning, this 40-page story finishes off with some nice little extras in the form of an afterwrod from our two creators, some mini-character bios, and the lines and inks of the two cover images.  It's a nice little addition that gives a small sense of some of the work that went into the making of the comic.  And it all looks quite nice on the shiny and sheeny paper they printed this comic on.  There's an awful lot of quality in between this book's covers.

Verdict – Buy It. Minor missteps notwithstanding, Halloween Eve is something special. A modern day A Christmas Carol with some Wizard of Oz thrown in for good measure, Montclare and Reeder have created a sweet little story that can be appreciated by readers young and old. As I said earlier, Halloween stories do seem to be increasing in popularity, and if they can all be as genuine and enjoyable as Halloween Eve is, I can't wait to read them.

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