THIS REVIEW OF ‘HOME SICK PILOTS’ #1 CONTAINS SPOILERS.
by Kate Kowalski. I believe comics are the form of media that come the closest to depicting how we exist in time and space. This is my favorite thing about them. When reading, you advance through the paces, tunnel through the plot, and perceive it as linear (whether the story is or not). But once you close the comic, all of these carefully scripted events are sheets of paper stacked atop each other. A panel nestled amongst many, we inhabit one moment while existing amidst all of time simultaneously.
Home Sick Pilots has me thinking quantum physics—a promising start. It weaves a multi-layered narrative into a loop, appropriate for a story about ghosts. Or what seems to be a story about ghosts so far. It’s certainly a story about the nature of ghosts and the sense and act of haunting.
What’s in a name? The titular crew is a gang of teens making punk music in the 90s under the moniker, “The Home Sick Pilots.” It’s a telling band name, especially as the members are confirmed 2/3s orphaned. They trespass on private property, skateboard the pier, smoke, drink, and live up to the “Foster Kid stereotype,”—their teen angst kicked up by that underlying yearning for a sense of home they pilot (aimlessly) towards.
Amida is our main gal steering the tale. She’s the brash one with the tragic/mysterious backstory who breaks into the Old James House, renowned for trapping a local boy inside and starving him to death. Rip is the other orphan, a drummer, and a weed dealer who kicks a cop in the face and laughs. Buzz is the more level-headed third member, rounding out the band, not actively seeking trouble but still finding himself in the middle of it. The troupe has a musical rival: The Nuclear Bastards, a gritty group they face up against in a time-bending two page splash.
After Amida has gone missing, the two groups converge at the Old James House, entering at different points, forcing the reader to eskew the traditional Western left-to-right page scan. The rooms of the house itself serve as panels to delineate the moments until they meet in the middle. It’s a memorable spread that encapsulates the looping and layered nature of the story.
Dan Watters stacks a few different tenses of Amida’s narrative together to craft this tale. There’s a future, all-knowing Amida, the past Amida who wanders into the haunted house, and the present Amida who is currently an ethereal ghost-being stomping around southern California, wearing the Old James House like an anime mecha suit. Every comic deserves a re-read of course, but Home Sick Pilots #1 folds over onto itself, the opening monologue requiring an understanding of later events for it to properly click into place. This is a fitting way to tell a ghost story; the reader embodies the same compulsive looping that ghosts tend to do.
The set-up of Home Sick Pilots, this first installment of what is sure to be a pretty epic tale, is surprisingly self-contained. That is until the last minute when Watters introduces a fourth iteration of Amida (present, future?), on an Arthurian-seeming quest to retrieve a mythic item, perhaps the first of many. Stay tuned.
But back to what we have so far: the cool, troubled punk chick merges with a house to become a sort of eldritch abomination meets Pacific Rim. The opening sequence is stunning. What seems to be a fuschia sunrise over a classic SoCal landscape turns out to be a supernatural laser beam shooting out of the top of a haunted house on legs. Caspar Wijngaard renders this story in his typical neon tones, setting the mood for this punk-horror-sci fi genre blend. Each panel is lit deliberately, strobing color lending insight into each moment. And everyone is so cool. The character design is on point, small details like piercings and scars and hair streaks alongside fingerless gloves and flannels centers the story in a very stylized mid 90s.
I certainly feel the 90s nostalgia in this comic and the inherent teen yearning for something else, bigger, better, scarier, whatever. It’s been a rough time. Many of us have been haunting our own homes, looping through the same motions like ghosts, grasping for shreds of interest to differentiate our days. If you’re looking, Home Sick Pilots is a jolt, a momentary buzz amidst the monotony. The imagery is strange, the conceit even stranger. It’s got some odd nooks and crannies, but the structure’s sound and the weirdness really works. And I have a feeling it’s only going to get even weirder.
Image Comics / $3.99
Written by Dan Watters.
Art by Caspar Wijngaard.
Letters by Aditya Bidikar.
Design by Tom Muller.
9 out of 10
Listen to Dan Watters & Caspar Wijngaard’s playlist for ‘Home Sick Pilots’ exclusively on DoomRocket here.
Check out this 4-page preview of ‘Home Sick Pilots’ #1, courtesy of Image Comics!