The newest production from UK based publisher, Com.x (Cla$$war, 45) Duppy 78 is beautifully realised, with luscious visuals and a daring desire to do something different and disturbing with the unique voice that sequential art offers.
Set in Kingston, Jamaica in 1978, this is a location and era that gets little focus in comics. That, plus the bold characters and surprisingly effective combination of supernatural scares and crime drama make Duppy 78 an engrossing read. The publisher describes it in three words – “voodoo, violence and vilification,” and that sums it up pretty well.
Too Bad, Martin Isaac and Chris Mansfield are the three main crime lords of Kingston but an unfortunate incident with an American photo-journalism student whittles the three down to two, ramping up the tension and the means to which the remaining crime lords will go to keep, and expand, their power.
There are some bad characters within these pages, but writer, and former DC/Vertigo editor, Casey Seijas never allows them to be so repugnant that we don’t want to know what happens to them. We are also given glimpses into the gangsters’ lives outside of their criminal activities, such as the mature way Mansfield deals with a dangerous and troublesome rock star who’s staying at the luxurious resort he owns.
The story is divided in to four chapters, each with a short primarily black and white flashback which reveals more of the main characters’ history and motivations.
The dialogue is filled with the lingo of ‘70s Jamaica, but is never indecipherable, plus there’s a handy glossary in the first few pages, but thankfully the tale can be enjoyed without constantly referring to it. In case you’re wondering, a duppy is a mischievous spirit in Rasafarian culture, and those who are able to see and control them are known as Obeahmen, or Duppy Conquerors.
The three ruling gangsters each have one of these Conquerors, in the form of “gifted” children who have ties to the men. The wheelchair bound Judah wears a bag on his head to stop the terrifying visions, and there’s also Santa, and Elena is Mansfield’s daughter. The way these children are used by the gangsters as mere pieces on a chess board, and tools of vengeance drives this intense, well-paced tale.
Amancay Nahuelpan’s artwork is suitably nightmarish in a way that goes beyond the gang violence, as you can glimpse in the trailer for the 116 page OGN. Combined with Daniel Warner’s colours and the well researched details of the period, this is a comic that almost has dirt, smells and grime coming off the page. With the childrens’ terrifying visions of demons highlighting the ugliness and hatred that surrounds them, Duppy 78 looks like an ’80s horror film, with grotesque monsters jumping from the shadows. I haven’t seen this many disturbing visions on the page since I read Junji Ito’s alarming manga Spirals.
Also included are a few pages of concept sketches and cover designs from Nahuelpan and other talented artists.
Duppy 78 is available now from digital comics distributor (and recent Amazon acquisition) comiXology for only $4.99.