Friday, July 12, 2013

Recommended Reading for 7/9: Boneyard

Have you ever received a gift or an inheritance that you really wish you didn't get? And I'm not talking an ugly sweater for Christmas from your Meema or tickets to a concert that you couldn't care less about from a spouse. I'm talking something big, something life altering. That's what happened to Michael Paris when he found out his grandfather had died. He was told he was the heir to some property in the town of Raven's Hollow, and when he went to check it out he found out it was... a cemetery. And not just any cemetery. It's one populated by vampires, werewolves, merpeople, and demons. And after he found that out, things really started getting weird. That's the world of Richard Moore's Boneyard.

Boneyard is a black and white comic published from 2001 to 2009 from NBM Publishing. Richard Moore, Boneyard's creator, writer, and artist, has led a varied career, from works for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories to adult work through NBM's Amerotica. Boneyard falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, firmly in the darker PG, lighter PG-13 range. There's violence, but it's usually comical, and the sense of humor is bawdy, with a flirtatious and teasing edge, no matter how hard Nessie, the sexpot Merwoman, would like it to be more graphic.

The humor of Boneyard, and what it is at its heart is a humor comic, is in the characters. This is a sitcom with supernatural flavor, and with situations that you won't find on CBS Monday nights, although it might be a nice change. Michael Paris, or just Paris as he goes by mostly, is the classic fish out of water hero of many sitcoms and fantasy stories. He is unrelentingly normal. This is not a guy used to rubbing elbows with a talking skeleton or having a will-they/won't-they relationship with a sexy vampire, but that's the life he now leads. The joke of Paris's complete befuddlement at the Boneyard is pretty central to everything, and becomes a crux point in story when his purely ordinary dreams are the thing that protect him from a creature who preys on the sleeping minds of everyone else; it can't twist his dreams the way it can the monsters because he's just so darn ordinary.

The monsters, ghosts, demons, and the like that populate the Boneyard are not your usual assortment of creatures. They're friendly, good neighbors, and enjoy a good game of poker. Each of them are distinct and wonderful characters; Moore is a great character writer, and how distinct each of his monsters, who could have been simple stereotypes stapled over monster frames is a testament to that.

The principal monster character in the cast is Abbey, the vampire and the Boneyard's peacemaker and, for want of a better term, denmother. Abbey is ancient, having been turned millennia ago, but she still retains a lot of her good humor and friendliness. She is the person that everyone in the Boneyard listens to, the one they all respect, and she is the person who does her best to make sure everyone is alright and everything runs smoothly. She and Paris have a classic sitcom relationship, where they clearly have feelings for each other but neither are willing to admit it to the other. But Abbey is still a vampire, and when she cuts loose she is clearly a force to be reckoned with, something terrible in her power.

Nessie and Brutus are two of the Boneyard's other residents. Nessie is a merwoman, a female version of the Creature of the Black Lagoon type, and is on the, ahem, buxom side. She is a massive flirt, and seems to have no problem cheating on her husband, Brutus, who resembles Frankenstein's monster. She seems particularly drawn to Paris, partly because he resists her, and partly because it gets Abbey's goat. In one of Boneyard's darker moments, Nessie's history of abuse while imprisoned in a freakshow begins to explain her behavior, and also her seemingly strange relationship with Brutus. While he's huge, mute, and jealous, he honestly loves Nessie, and is gentle with her, something she has little experience with.

On the other end of the spectrum, from the serious relationship issues and broken character of Nessie is Glump. Glump is  a minor demon, and by minor I mean he stands maybe three feet tall on his tip toes. He was banished from Hell for being nice, and has been since attempting to earn his way back by proving how evil he is. Unfortunately for him, he's really bad at it. Glump is the regular comic relief for the series; when other serious events are happening, there can be a cutaway to a scene of one of Glump's hairbrained schemes (including the construction of the Apocalypse Frog) that safely breaks the tension and reminds the reader that at it's heart, Boneyard is a really funny comic.

These are just a few of the more featured Boneyard residents. Among the others, there is Ralph, the werewolf mechanic; Sid, the lecherous skeleton; Hildy, the wise old witch; and Mr. Vincent, the local mortician. These are three dimensional characters, each with their own foibles and virtues, and many seem to have a secret in their past that has led them to live in the Boneyard. One of the main themes of Boneyard is that family is what you make of it. When he arrived at the Boneyard, Paris seems to have no connection to anyone, having no idea why he was even chosen to inherit this property. Over the course of the series, he grows closer with the strange cast of creatures, and in the series' last arc, they take on a dangerous mission to save him. Paris has found a family, as have all the strange outsiders of the Boneyard.

While the characters of Boneyard serve as the backbone of the series, there is still a plot that drives the whole series; this isn't like a comic strip with a series of random quirky events. Much of the action of Boneyard has to do with different beings attempting to lay claim to the Boneyard for reasons unknown. Beelzebub, Lord of Lies, and Lillith, the ancient demoness who granted Abbey her vampiric abilities, have both attempted to convince Paris to hand over the deed. The IRS has come to collect back taxes, leading to a series of attempts to make money, including a swimsuit issue and a prize fight. The plots are often an excuse for Moore to do character work, or to draw interesting new creatures; one arc features Paris and Abbey investigating a slasher at a summer camp, and the final arc is Paris being taken by a fairy princess to be her groom, but they draw the reader in, and it feels like Moore knows exactly where he's going with the story.

Moore's art style is light and fun. The art is not overly realistic, clearly cartoony, but he has a good sense of proportion and movement. His characters are well designed, and he draws wonderful comedy. Glump is a perfect example of comedic gold, with his madcap dialogue working well with his goofy design and slapstick antics. His humans are distinct, and some of his female characters, Nessie especially, are clearly influenced by his time working on more, ahem, adult comics, although never graphic enough to cross a line to become offensive to certain sensibilities.

Boneyard is an odd mix of humour and horror, one that you don't see often. It's not a funny horror story, like some classic X-Files or Buffy episodes can be, and it's not an episode of The Munsters either, where the nature of the monsters is more or less ignored. It blends the two genres perfectly into something completely its own. It's something at times heartwarming, sometimes even a bit scary, but always something fun.

Boneyard's 28 issues were originally published by NBM Publishing, which traded all the issues in seven black and white trades. The first four volumes were reprinted and colorized as well. These can still be found at comic shops, and directly from NBM's website. This week saw the release of a Boneyard one-shot from Moore's more recent publisher, The Biggening.

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