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Welcome To Hoxford #1

Posted: Friday, August 15, 2008
By: Paul Brian McCoy

Ben Templesmith
Ben Templesmith
IDW Publishing
Bear with me. I'm going to try an experiment, here, and record my reactions to this book as I read over it the second time. The first time through was to take in the story and familiarize myself with the art. This time I'm going to try to record my reactions with as little self-editing as possible. Kind of like a therapy session. There will be cursing.

The Cover: Beautiful. Haunting. The overlaying of the floor plans with the photorealisic long shot of the building itself is frightening. Only after looking closely, do I realize that there's a barb-wire topped fence between the viewer and the building. If I didn't know it was a prison before opening the book, this would let me know something bad was going on here. The contrast between the full moon peering out from behind heavy black clouds and the saturation of bloody red across the lower third of the picture works on a primal level to stimulate unease. Even without Templesmith's name across the top, I would have been tempted to pick this up and see what was what.

Inside Cover / First Page: Sickly yellows and browns. Full page nastiness, cursing and reaching for me. The initial reaction is to pull back and cringe. Distracts from the credits on the inside cover, but immediately makes me look to see who's responsible for smacking me in the face like this. Mr. Templesmith, you are a mean man.

Pages 2 3: The beating is brutal. The pages look like jaundice and bloody bruises. But in a good way. The violence of the beating is off-panel and we shift to flashes of more abuse over the years. Our main character Ray is seriously fucked. Victimized. Weak. A biter. The dialogue is almost too much to take seriously, as though Templesmith is trying to shock, but when paired with the visuals it works better than other books that try to shock (Young Liars, I'm looking at you!).

Pages 4 5: Reactions from Ray. Not weak. Not a victim anymore. The width of these page panels are fantastic. The scenes are shown cinematically in widescreen. The energy in each panel is wrenching. A flash of blood splatter across a panel with a background I can barely make out. Is that a skinned monkey profile? Is it subliminal? Someone's crying and I don't know who. Maybe to be revealed later? Does it matter? The unease is palpable on the page. No one does this like Templesmith. More blood splatter, forming a strobe effect between the flashes of dialogue.

Ray is seriously fucked. The doctors all say so. Goodbye doctors.

Page 6: Fantastic transition over these first six pages from the abusive uncle with his hand over Ray's young mouth as he beats him, to the reveal of modern Ray in his cell with the broken and bloody cell mate in his grip. Or is that Cronos, Lord of Titans in that cell?

Okay, enough therapy. I love the opening of this book. I was a little put off by the dialogue at first, and we are clearly meant to understand that Ray is, as I've said, seriously fucked. He has "severe PTSD dissociative mood disorders...delirium, apparent multiple personalities...and then there's this OCD with the biting." He's a murderous animal who claims to be Cronos, Lord of the Titans. And we will all bow to him eventually. What's not to like?

The rest of the book sets up our supporting characters and the setting: Hoxford Prison, a privately funded facility run by Russian conglomerate. The only thing is, they don't seem to have the best of intentions, and in fact, may be werewolves. How will Ray deal with being incarcerated here? I expect lots of violence, swearing, and gory, gory scenes.

I'll be disappointed otherwise.

This is not a book for everyone. It is a book for me, though. Ben Templesmith may be a genius. Or maybe a savant. I'm not sure, after following him on Twitter for a while. Either way, I loved this book. I loved the use of color, the use of shadow, and the multimedia approach that provides the finishing touches to some of the most liberated and explosive pen and ink work in comics today. I love the absolute disinterest in playing nice and making something mainstream marketable. Turns out there just may be a market for mad, biting bastards and werewolf prison guards.

Who knew?



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