Webcomic Review - Andy Pollock's WITCHHOUND
You can almost hear the "clop clop" and rattle of horse drawn carriages and the hiss of gaslamps with the turn of every page. The smell of soot and blood hang acrid in the air of your imagination. The one thing you can't imagine is what color the main character is.
But it doesn't matter. It's fantastic, regardless.
Andrew Pollock's WitchHound mixes Victorian horror with... well... more Victorian horror. It starts off with a mugging of a young woman by a large brutish man with a knife, but quickly we discover that the alleys of Victorian London are being stalked by things other than human. The title character, who remains a mystery even after 32 pages and has barely seen any camera time, is a supernatural beast, a cross between werewolf and a small man.
Yes, you read me right. A werewolf and a small man. He's all tooth and claws, but sans snout and the barrel-chested physique you're used to seeing in werewolf movies. He's feral, violent and lethal, but his queen's English is rather charming. When he talks.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by a mysterious old man named Ayza, who seems to manage monstrosities in his spare time, including WitchHound and a large viney brute. Hot on the trail of a serial killer as well as WitchHound include a gruff, lantern-jawed police detective with a constable in tow. The detective has a keen eye for detail and manages to track WitchHound to Ayza. The villain seems a dastardly supernatural sort appropriate for such a tale. He seems to have the ability to possess bodies and exert some sort of psychic control over them. He seems intent on performing some sort of horrific ritual, leaving death in his wake.
This is all fine and good, but none of it matters if it's not crafted well. It's apparent, though, after seeing only a handful of pages, that the story and characters are in capable hands. The artwork is incredibly strong, with hints of Mike Mignola but without outright copying him. Having artwork hold its own without color or grayscale is a challenging proposition, a challenge I myself have been struggling with for man years. Andy makes it look easy, with as close to a perfect balance of black and white defining the characters and environments as one could imagine.
The pacing and layouts of the pages flow exceedingly well. Camera angles and points of view are chosen well to tell the story in a dynamic and interesting way. The drawing style is very consistent and shows a mastery of the craft. If I had to be picky, the only concern would be a stiffness to some of the character posings, but with the drama created by light and shadow, camera choices and layout, it's all quickly forgiven.
Dialogue is written in a few varieties of English accents and works well with the Victorian setting. Usually, digital lettering and bubbles mixed with hand-drawn artwork falter in the hands of amateurs, creating a break between the dialogue and the artwork that's distracting to the eye. The lettering and balloon treatment here looks professional and clean, however, with a good deal of care expressed in the placement of the bubbles, the thickness of the lineweight and the white space around the words.
WitchHound is a highly underrated piece of work, due perhaps to a lack of aggressive marketing. That hardly means it's not worth reading or that Andrew is any less passionate about his work than others. Black and white comics are a hard cell to the readers of today, what with the increasing prevalence of high quality coloring. For some, the lack of color feels dull. For me, the lack of color presents the creator an immense challenge to give their work depth through linework and shadows alone. It's the highest of contrasts and takes skill to pull off well. And Andrew does with flying colors. Horror is also an extremely challenging genre for a comic book creator to undertake. Unlike TV or film, things can't jump out at you for a cheap thrill. Comic book horror has to chill you, not scare you. Again, Andrew does it well.
This series has a great deal of potential, and I urge webcomic readers to give it a shot. It's not a one off laugh a week. It's not a gag strip. There's nothing cute here. It's simply good, cinematic, sequential storytelling. If you want something with a bit of mystery, with a bit of darkness, with a STORY to it, WitchHound is as good a spot to start as any.
Daniel Fu is the Comic Fodder Webcomic Reviewer
He lives in Austin, TX and is the creator of The Retriever webcomic.