The Dregs is one of the few comics in recent months to address homelessness head-on, and thought it is definitely a comic about social issues, it is also heavily committed to literary tradition, popular culture, and the idea of narrative in the comics medium. It’s such a finely crafted series that seeing it come to a conclusion this week is bitter sweet, made a little more palatable by the fact that the trade is arriving in little more than a month and it will then exist in both well-deserved formats.
Published by Black Mask Studios, The Dregs is a challenging comic about change in a city, Vancouver, British Columbia, and the perspective of one homeless man, Arnold, who channels Raymond Chandler to try to take on corrupt forces. The dark underpinnings of the comic may seem extravagant–that rich investors are engineering overdoses among the homeless population and getting rid of the bodies by serving them up in trendy restaurants–but it’s a tonally appropriate to the overwhelming forces Arnold faces as his city, and his friends, are ripped away from him.
This week’s fourth and final issue is deeply disturbing but an incredible effort in writing and art from writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, artist Eric Zawadzki, and colorist Dee Cunniffe. In this issue, Arnold directly confronts the goings on at creepy restaurant La Mancha, is treated as a “guest of honor” as he asserts his ability to take down the anti-homeless plot, and even meets the mayor of the city.
These events are actually alarming and the reader is bound to feel very concerned about Arnold since he’s clearly swimming with sharks as he moves into the territory of the slick and corrupt. What Thompson and Nadler construct in the writing in these scenes is very impressive–the dialog and texture of communication rings so true and recognizable of the world we live in that it’s bound to send a shiver up your spine. For instance, La Mancha is part of a “vibrant community space”. Sure it is. In a way it is. And that’s profoundly creepy.
There are a lot of big truths in this issue–making it very worthy of its position as the finale to this series. In fact truths fall thick and fast in this issue, and the creators don’t hold back in making you grapple with them alongside them. Couching these truths in a thematically resonant backdrop, the art is exceptional as Arnold moves through an Escher-like twisting and turning cityscape. We’ve seen ambitious art on this comic before–with usually a few key pages per issue breaking into elaborately structured and impactful spreads, but this issue pulls out all the stops and we descend into Arnold’s “grey” dreamscape with him.
There is plenty of Raymond Chandler in this final issue, as well as Don Quixote–the two touchstones of the series. But there are also echoes, for this reader at least, of both The Spirit and The Shadow, reminding us that this work is part of comic tradition as well as literary tradition. It’s a salient reminder that the experiments we see in The Dregs might have as much in common with Will Eisner’s work or pulp comics as they do with real-life observation and research and literary heroes.
The Dregs has been a very sophisticated comic book delivered in a way that’s accessible to a wide range of readers and it definitely follows through in that pattern well through this final issue. It’s the kind of book that, hopefully, will be remembered by award nominations when the time comes, and reach as broad an audience as possible through the trade collection, as well.
The Dregs #4 arrives in shops today, Wednesday, June 28th, 2017.
You can check out a previous interview about The Dregs on Comicon.com right here.
This review was written by Hannah Means-Shannon.
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