By Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, Eric Zawdzki, Dee Cunniffe
Black Mask unleashes a new series on the market, with a unique and grimy flavor…
One thing I have to give to Black Mask is how “out there” they are compared to other publishers. They swing for the fences, in order to compete with larger publishers doing creator owned comics. It doesn’t always work, but occasionally the results are interesting enough to merit praise and recognition.
The Dregs #1 takes a lot of stuff you’ve seen before; unreliable narrator/unlikely protagonist, violence against the homeless, cannibalism and noir storytelling based on real estate. This isn’t bad exactly, it brings to the forefront what is usually a brief short story. The familiarity, if done well, can help draw the reader into the plot quickly and effectively. Indeed, the first issue of The Dregs is worth checking out. Whether its going anywhere, mostly depends on the second issue.
Set in Vancouver (hey, how many noir stories are set in Canada?), the homeless population is slowly and quietly being eliminated so the city can refurbish their living space. By eliminated, I mean they’re being drugged and eaten. It’s there in the first few pages, so it shouldn’t be a spoiler. Arnold is a resident of the Dregs, the shantytown where Vancouver’s homeless live. He’s searching for his friend, whose seemingly vanished off the face of the Earth. Of course we know what happened to his friend, but it seems unlikely he will learn himself. He has quite a drug addiction, which doesn’t help his thought processes. However, he gathers a sense that something is amiss in the city and that someone is covering up his friend’s death.
Eric Zawadzki’s art is well suited for this type of story, appearing as a cross between Bryan Hitch and Eduardo Risso. It’s equal parts rough and cinematic, like Scorpio following a vagrant. Likewise the blood, even the colors in general, is vivid but also dirty in its own way. It fits within the context of the subject matter, it’s supposed to be dirty and gross. Zawaszki’s storytelling takes us along with the inciting incident, or “the gunshot”, and Arnold doing his best detective work trying to find motive and clues throughout the city while his head-space is clear. Dee Cunniffe’s colors uses a lot of neutral tones with careful infusions of red, purple and other striking colors to draw the eye to important objects on the page. It’s a simple technique done well, and adds to Zawadzki’s storytelling.
For a first issue, The Dregs isn’t overly flashy or revolutionary. That’s only a drawback if this is all there is to the story. We know what happened to Arnold’s friend and that he’ll likely figure it out for himself. So there’s not much mystery here, other than why the city is serving up homeless people to an unknowing population as local beef and if Arnold’s actions will have any effect by the end. Noir stories are known for not having happy endings, so odds are Arnold ends up a happy meal rather than blowing the lid on Vancouver’s dirty little secret. It’s a crowded market right now; there’s an abundance of cape books like always as well as Star Wars, Mignolaverse books, Transformers and 99% of Image’s output. There’s not a lot of straightforward crime books though, and in that void a book like The Dregs can flourish. It’s very solid right now, and if Nadler and Thompson can strengthen the story as it evolves, I think it could be very successful. It’s definitely not bad, but I believe the writing and art can deliver a truly great comic with the available subject matter.
For crime fans, and/or those reading Kill or Be Killed, The Dregs #1 is worth checking out on premise alone. Here’s hoping the second issue does even better.
Disclosure: Publisher Black Mask provided a review copy of this comic to Nothing But Comics without any payment between the site and publisher or agreement on the review’s content.