Pullbox Reviews: Bear Skin, one axe swing away from horrific perfection…

A delusional man in a bear suit is killing the townsfolk, believing they are monsters in disguise.

But when REAL monsters start showing up, the people of Grantsville have no choice but to turn to the murderous madman for protection.

Andy, a slasher in a bear suit stalks the streets of Grantsville, West Virginia. Axe in hand, he believes that his fuzzy onesie allows him to see the monsters lurking inside of the people around him, and the ability to slaughter them. He’s on a desperate crusade to save whatever humanity might be left, and he won’t stop until anyone carrying the infectious horror has been hacked to bits…

If Bear Skin was just a slasher story, it could be kinda cool, following this big lug around on his disturbed and disturbing mission. But… and here’s the possibility we never consider when dealing with a deranged serial killer… what if Andy is right?

Bear Skin combines the narrative of a killer hiding in plain sight, with the concept of a lurking invasion featuring the most Lovecraftian of Lovecraftian horrors and also hiding in plain sight. Writer Jason Pell taps into a couple different subsets of the genre, bringing readers 80 pages of slasher/invasion/body horror goodness. From subtle hints suggesting that Andy might not be exactly what folks expect, to the surrounding characters who are torn between running for their lives & turning to the axe-murderer for safety, Pell walks the line as he builds the suspense. He manages to do in a comic what movies are able to rely on musical scores and timing to accomplish. Because he can’t very well write “wait for it…” in his script, he uses silent panels and deliberately placed dialogue, trusting his readers to follow the cues. Pell’s very best angle is playing on the doubts in his supporting characters, contrasting that uncertainty against the absolute conviction of Andy.

The artist known as Jok “gets it”, and uses his own rough, sketchy style to further push the story into its unsettling comfort zone. Jok’s character designs go a long way toward establishing the good folk of Grantsville as down home, ordinary people going about their day. There are very few “beautiful people” hanging around as the emphasis is placed on tension and growing unease. That discomfort is aided by non-traditional panel layouts, as a three or four panel grid focusing on individual action beats is often engulfed in the embrace of a full page spread for the full scene. There’s also the bowel loosening terror one might expect when faced with a mountain of a man swinging an axe on one side, and the gibbering fiends of nightmare on the other. Jok handles all the creeps, along with the sudden outbursts of violence and bloodshed, in a way that swings between “what the actual…” and “okay, so that happened”.

As this article is being written, Bear Skin’s successful Kickstarter campaign (fully funded in two days!) is edging into its final hours. There’s still time to get in on this twisted dish of horror at its inception before you have to stand in line behind the teeming masses. With the offered hardcover edition as an incentive, it’s tempting for me, and I’ve already read it! Fans of Cthulhu-esque terror and hacky, slashy mayhem have every reason to jump over to Kickstarter right now and open their arms to this creative team’s- and Andy’s- loving embrace.

Final Score: 12/13

I can almost hear “Dream Weaver” playing on the 8-track…
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