Since it’s been running through a first volume in 2016 and into a second volume for 6 issues in 2016-2017, you’re bound to have heard of Eric Powell’s comic Hillbilly, published by his own press, Albatross Funnybooks. The comic has been surprising for many reasons, but not least of them is the success Powell has had in running his own imprint, and even expanding it to include a few books. That’s no small feat in the difficulties of the comics market we face today, and he’s the first to assure us that it’s been difficult, if rewarding.
But this season, the comic itself is a major structural achievement to my mind because it actually accomplishes what many comics purport to do, but rarely live up to–it creates a different story with every issue so that readers really can jump on at any point and enjoy the comic. The events of each issue are all set within the same universe, but the adventures of Rondel, our wandering and dark-eyed cleaver-carrying Hillbilly, vary from month to month. The fact that Powell can construct narratives so tightly that they are always perfectly contained in the 22 page format is a massive testament to his creative abilities as a storyteller. And he really does leave the door open to new readers in each issue.
But then there’s the art. Which you might expect to be absolutely compelling in a book from the creator of The Goon. You might guess that Hillbilly will also contain elements of social commentary and variations on the occult. Both are the case. But in this comic, Powell really lets his personal creative influences off the leash in exploration of southern themes and backwoods folklore. The exuberance he brings to each issue while wading around in these areas of personal interest is clear in both the artwork and the writing.
In issue #6, the Hillbilly has been captured by a non-human entity who wishes to wreak revenge on him for all the harm he has done to non-human kind (usually in defense of self or humans), and while locked up, it’s the perfect opportunity for him to tell a personal story to a fellow inmate. There’s an interesting theme about human weakness and limitation, and recognizing it oneself. There’s an interesting question about when it’s ok to forgive your own questionable deeds. But there’s also a very interesting origin story for Hillbilly’s giant companion cave-bear Lucille, and how meeting her led to what he perceives to be his worst earthly deed–but one he’s not particularly concerned about.
We get to see a young Hillbilly and comprehend some of his formative influences, and this further builds the world of the relatively young comic for readers. The caves and settlements Powell conjures in this issue in his interesting grey-green and yellow-green washes will capture your imagination–and emotions.
For strange tales and some of the best artwork you’ll see in comics, you should be reading Powell’s Hillbilly.