Pullbox Reviews: Red Fork – “Sometimes it’s our scars that hold us together, Noah.”

Ex-con Noah returns to find his hometown of Redfork decayed by opioid abuse. But soon he discovers a more sinister and dangerous supernatural presence lurking in the coal mines below town… From critically acclaimed creators Alex Paknadel (Giga) and Nil Vendrell (Shirtless Bear-Fighter!).

Opportunities in Red Fork, West Virginia come few & far between, and always with a price. A coal mining town, the work was hard with built-in risk factors, but it was always there. Recreation was limited to the local bars, local sports, and local drug dealers. Aside from the always iron clad ties of family, the other thing the people could rally behind was a deep hatred for Amcore, the corporation that has owned & run the mine for generations. That the town is dependent on Amcore for its survival is a fact that only fuels the hate and tightens the people’s bonds- in every sense of the word.

Red Fork is a story through which many themes are wound by writer Alex Paknadel, a writer I’ve been very aware for much of my time with ThePullbox (check the site for reviews of Arcadia, & Turncoat). Noah, released from prison and returning home, is immediately confronted with a workers’ strike at the mine as he watches “scabs” breaking the picket line amidst the expected verbal abuse and accusations of betrayal- several of the workers breaking the line are locals just trying to feed their families. Right there, the theme of obligation is dug into as people have to choose between family, friends, & community. Another thread that Paknadel has woven through the work is one of addiction. One of the downfalls of life in Red Fork, where money and entertainment are scarce, is ready access to recreational drugs. Escape from the drudgery is always in demand, and whether it comes from a needle or a pipe the rot is overlooked in favor of the easy fix.

Nothing in Red Fork comes without a price.

Mundane everyday sources of dependence & addiction aside, Paknadel doubles down and gets to the real grist of Red Fork. Noah discovers someone… something… has crept out of the earth and begun working its will on the people he’s known and loved his whole life. What this force is, we don’t know. Well, I know cuz I’ve read the book, but I’m not telling you (nothing’s free, remember?). I will say without giving too much away that when you peel back the layers of life in the town of Red Fork, with all of its drudgery and skullduggery, you’re going to find layers of grime, strata of grit, and a truly disturbing exploration of the meaning of legacy.

“This? This is a gross insult to the ontological dignity of the human form. Who was the night nurse?”

“Cesare.”

“Mmm. And where is he now?”

“We sent him home with, ooh… ALL the lorazepam.”

excerpt from Red Fork, TKO Studios

Look up “body horror” and take a dive through the examples given. Study the imagery and more importantly the psychology of what that sub-genre of horror means. With all of that in mind, ponder the efforts of Nil Vendrell & Giulia Brusco in this book. I feel safe in proclaiming their work to be well and truly disgusting (also leaky, seepy, & oozy)  in the best, most horrifying of ways. Vendrell’s line work on its own would stand up next to the best in the industry, his character designs showcasing the mundanity of everyday life for the not-so rich & famous. Honestly, as a comicbook artist I don’t know how much more difficult it is to portray normal folk as opposed to larger than life superheroes, but Vendrell has populated Red Fork with the kinds of people you see every day. Every one of them has a story to tell and secrets to keep, with the weight of it all showing in the lines on their faces and the stoop to their shoulders. Add Brusco’s colors to the mix, and Red Fork becomes more than the sum of its parts, a fact that becomes evident when the horror creeps onto the page. Like artistic Shaolin monks, when their powers combine Vendrell & Brusco elevate the already horrifying story laid out in Paknadel’s words.

First impressions are important, that simple fact of life can’t be denied. Another truth I’d like to direct your attention to is how Vendrell’s cover art for Red Fork implies all of the promise of what readers can look forward to. It’s all right there laid out for everyone to see in a mangled & rotting pile of roadkill. I can’t help but wonder at the intent behind the art. What may or may not have been an opossum is left behind on the road’s double yellow line, and I’m questioning how aware the driver was of his or her action and ensuing consequences as their tires crossed over into the No Man’s Land of a no passing zone.

TKO Studios has made some waves in the comicbook industry, and with the rollout of their third batch of titles, short one-shots, and an illustrated prose book, it doesn’t look like they’re done. There are very few publishers out there as willing to stand behind their product, as shown by their willingness to share full trade editions with a lowly comic review blog (a big thank you to Shannon O’Connor for being awesome). For the record, my guilt over accepting the freebies was assuaged by the fact that I’d already ordered two of the three new releases, as well as two of the shorts.

Kids, I can’t express my admiration for Red Fork and it’s creative team enough. Horror in comics isn’t an easy sell, but between sharp and layered writing, and some truly disturbing imagery this is a solid winner. Whether you’re going in for TKO’s six-issue boxed set or the collected trade, Red Fork is well worth the investment for any fan of horror.

Final Score: 13/13

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