Wielding The Devil’s Cleaver In HillBilly Volumes 1-3

by Tito W. James

Hillbilly, created by Eric Powell and published by Albatross Funnybooks, follows the adventures of Rondel, the wandering mountain man, as he uses the Devil’s cleaver to cut through Appalachian folklore and evil witches alike. With the first three volumes collected into trades, I thought It would be an appropriate time to reflect on Rondel’s journey.

Powell intended HillBilly to be a series that can be enjoyed by all ages and in doing so, created a book that can be enjoyed by multiple generations. What begins as a series of self-contained short stories is woven into an interconnected epic worthy of the Arthurian legend. It’s clean, iconic storytelling, free of trends, fads or vulgar pleas for attention.

At first glance, Rondel’s black-teared eyes reminded me of The Crow or a clown. Early circus clowns were caricatures of hobos and tramps. Therefore it’s fitting that Rondel’s persona has come full circle. He’s the fool card in the deck of life destined to poke fun at the king.

Another key component of HillBilly are how stories are woven together within each other. Fairytales of “The Iron Child” become prophecies for Rondel’s fight against the witches. Death is personified as a gaunt sheriff who is, in fact, the character of Buzzard from The Goon.

Powell is an outspoken political satirist whose opinions inform the point of view of HillBilly without being overbearing. There is an advocacy for common decency and a removal of rigid class structures.The black folks in this fantasy world were not abducted and enslaved by white men, but are the descendants of an advanced civilization that no longer depended on hierarchy.

HillBilly reminds us that people are actively thinking, feeling and creating in all parts of the country. When we start to listen to each other’s stories, they become a part of our identity. When we read really good fiction, we are no longer ourselves, but the characters.

And so it concludes–with humanity of every class, color and gender united against the seemingly insurmountable forces of darkness. It’s a painted portrait of the American spirit. Not perfect, but resilient.

I hope that the first three volumes will be collected in a large hardcover. The illustrations are lush and the story is epic enough to be housed in a sturdy format. Until then, the first three volumes are available wherever “funnybooks” are sold.

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