Sometimes, there are good surprises in life, but I can’t help but feel that friends were holding out on me if they knew that the latest issue of Eric Powell’s creator-owned book Hillbilly #7, published by Albatross Funnybooks, was such a strange and amazing creature. Not only does it give us an origin story of the main character’s quest to cleaver supernatural evil when he encounters it, half the story is told in glorious 3D.
Which if you’re a fan of Eric Powell’s work on The Goon, may be surprising. Powell is old school in all the best ways–hand drawing and teasing out textures, often using washes and earth tones to give a weighty sense of times past to his storytelling. But Powell is also a big fan of comic tradition and there is a significant comic tradition of working in 3D, particularly in the 80’s.
So Powell busts out the 3D effects, and the result feels so handmade and direct, so psychedelic and unsettling, that you really do enter the unnerving conceptual space of the Hillbilly’s rather unpredictable world shot through with the supernatural and menacing.
In this issue, we get another standalone story, which is typical, on the whole, of the Hillbilly series, where vignettes of strange experiences as our main character wanders mountainous hinterlands, though Powell has also constructed some larger arcs. But as a one-shot, it packs a punch, since out of the blue, we learn about the origin of Hillbilly’s trademark magical cleaver. In hindsight, we might have seen this coming in that a recent issue also explored the origin of Hillbilly’s relationship with companion bear Lucille, and we even got to see him in more “human” guise.
Now we follow Rondel the Hillbilly’s past through a blizzard to shelter with a Native American who takes pity on him, drinking presumably a psychedelic drink and experiencing a terrifying nightmare/call to vocation. Words won’t do the sequence justice, but the manual sense of the linework and brushtroke feel that Powell brings to this 3D sequence, which lasts for a number of pages, are more effecting that a more exact and formulaic use of 3D. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a comic artist use 3D as much for texture as for outlines in the way that Powell does here. He certainly makes that art form his own in a remarkable way.
The fact that Powell uses this powerful technique in tandem with a powerful reveal for the storytelling of Hillbilly has a nice sense of balance too. He’s not creating these effects just to experiment or wow the reader–he has a specific purpose for them that’s important to the story, too.
Like many of the best things in Hillbilly, the presence of a giant wolf and a mysterious “axe” in Rondel’s vision suggests plenty but leaves plenty unexplained. Menacing wolves appear in so many mythologies and cultures that we get a folk-tale sense of meaning here without being too distracted by specifics, and are even told “the wolf has many faces” and “many names”. The Wolf is metaphor. Reassuringly, the Hillbilly’s cleaver (which at times appears as an axe and at times appears as a cleaver in the dream) is not. Though we do learn that this “blade” has “the names of the wicked writ upon it”.
What an excellent foundational mythology to establish for Rondel, who we’ve already seen grapple with all manner of demons, tricksters, and spirit-dominated locals. His task is as big and as vague, and therefore as overwhelming, as we’ve already suspected it to be. Is he blessed or cursed? Probably cursed to a life of service, really.
As ever, the artwork on this series is just mesmerizing, but has story with deep enough roots to complement it. Just remember to dig around in your library for a pair of 3D glasses for issue #7. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this experience.
Hillbilly #7 arrived in comic shops on Wednesday, August 2nd. Hillybilly #8 is currently slated for release on August 23rd, 2017.