by Jarrod Jones. It began back in 2017 with a palpable burst of energy and creativity. Black Crown had arrived.
Shelly Bond’s hotly anticipated “crossroads of music and mayhem” soon after began scooping up critical raves and a line of creatives chomping at the bit to join this audacious new boutique label from IDW Publishing. From the beginning it was clear Black Crown had an ethos of its very own, a sense of timelessness and direction that was quite unlike anything we’d seen before. It had its own lived-in universe, but it wasn’t beholden to the trappings of recognizable reality. Hell, it even had its own map, but it took us as far as London, England, and strange new locales far beyond even that. (The afterlife being one such destination spot.). “They’re the books that I want to read,” Shelly told me back in ’17. “[They’re] the books I want to share with as many freaks and misfits like me.”
For the second installment of HOT PRESS, a new DoomRocket feature that zeroes in on a single publisher and a smattering of their strongest content, we decided to put together a mixtape playlist that (hopefully) represents the sonically-minded sequential brilliance that is Black Crown. (You can listen to it now; it’s at the bottom of this piece.) With the coming release of Eve Stranger #1 (out May 8), we decided to bring the sights and sounds of this incredible imprint that much closer.
THE BOOK: Kid Lobotomy
THE TEAM: Written by Peter Milligan, art by Tess Fowler, colors by Lee Loughridge, letters by Aditya Bidikar.
THE GIST: King Lear-esque hotelier anoints his weirdo son to run The Suites, a labyrinthine crash-pad for the fabulously wealthy, the rock stars, the writers who’ve careened into a wall. Cockroaches skitter here and there as familial deceit, young love, and reality all bend, contort, and swell towards a magnificent crescendo.
DEFINING MOMENT: The debut issue is still one of the finest (and wildest) launching points you’re likely to read. First impressions are paramount, and Kid Lobotomy has a stunner: Towards its back pages we find Kid, decked out in naught but his Union Jack and Doc Martens, wild-eyed, ferocious, beautiful, gripping his tiny harp and lost to the tethers of reality. This was the portal though which we entered Black Crown. It left its mark. Hell, it left a bruise.
NOW PLAYING: For a book that owes its vertiginous ambition and princely affect to Bowie (not to mention its peculiarity), no other tune would do to launch this playlist than The Thin White Duke’s “Fame”.
THE BOOK: Assassinistas
THE TEAM: Written by Tini Howard, art by Gilbert Hernandez, colors by Rob Davis, color flats by Robin Henley, letters by Aditya Bidikar.
THE GIST: Octavia, former assassin, is pulled out of civilian existence and thrust back into life-affirming danger—and she’s just recruited her put-upon college-aged son, who’s run out of polite ways to tell her he’s come out. Poignant family history and manic violence punctuate one of the sweeter, more heartfelt offerings from Black Crown, written by an astounding new voice and illustrated by a comics legend.
DEFINING MOMENT: Flashback in issue #5. Octavia has returned from a successful mission to find she’s been funneled into a friendly gathering. Covered in the grit and detritus that the killing life tends to offer, she hands her son Dom (encased in a bulletproof body carrier, naturally) over to a friend and, sensing that her would-be paramour Carlos is about to pull a gun on her, she draws pistol in kind (with a ferocious “Freeze, motherfucker!“). He’s on his knee and proposing marriage. No other single moment conveyed the fraught nerves and tender moments of Assassinistas (nor the personality, world-view, and passionate maternal instincts of its lead character) more succinctly.
NOW PLAYING: Assassinistas is most often compared to the works of Quentin Tarantino, and rightfully so. In this case, only the greatest needle drop in the entirety of the director’s career will do: As heard in Jackie Brown, The Delfonics’ “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” works on so many fundamental levels, including the totally-intended pun.
THE BOOK: Punks Not Dead
THE TEAM: Written by David Barnett, art by Martin Simmonds, color flats by Dee Cunniffe, letters by Aditya Bidikar.
THE GIST: Feargal “Fergie” Ferguson’s life of embarrassing talk show appearances and weekly school ground trouncings is interrupted by a spectral visit in a Heathrow bathroom. Spiritually fused with what appears to be the ghost of Sid Vicious, Fergie develops supernatural powers—which, naturally, brings down a firestorm of attention from across England, the target of maniacs and mystical magpies.
DEFINING MOMENT: All of issue #5. Fergie & “Sid’s” rambunctiousness has caught the attention of agent Dorothy Culpepper of the Department of Extra-Usual Affairs, a sixty-plus powerhouse decked out in Chelsea boots and a bob cut just as razor-sharp as her tongue. It’s here where Barnett & Simmonds reveal the secret origin of Culpepper, and how a single bad day (which began with lousy cunnilingus from a rocker named Mick and ends with a scarring battle with the demon Beleth) could turn a fashionista super-agent into Fergie’s only hope against the forces of darkness.
NOW PLAYING: For our first jaunt through the wild, untamed world of Punks Not Dead it wouldn’t do to pander to the obvious—no Sex Pistols, at least, not yet. (That’s for later.) No, for the series that introduced us Black Crown’s greatest character (being the mod-tastic Ms. Culpepper) with the force of an atomic blast, only Them’s “Gloria” will do.
THE BOOK: Euthanauts
THE TEAM: Written by Tini Howard, art by Nick Robles, colors from Eva de la Cruz, letters by Aditya Bidikar and Neil Uyetake.
THE GIST: Death is just another place, another step, and you can go there— provided you have the tools and the will to do it. Thalia Rosewood, funeral receptionist, is chosen to be the tether from this life to what lies beyond by a brilliant, dying scientist named Mercy. A beautiful, acid-laced adventure that celebrates all of living, especially the scary parts, and posits fascinating ideas concerning our many perceptions of life and death.
DEFINING MOMENT: Thalia finds Mercy in the Death-space. (Issue #3.) Rescued from a pitched struggle against a mad wraith who was once Mercy’s husband, Thalia is confronted with the uncertainty of her seemingly impending death just as she discovers the blinding white void of welcoming. “The true end,” Dr. Mercy says. It’s a frightening and simultaneously magnificent sequence that sets Euthanauts (and Black Crown) on a higher strata of ambition and daring. It’s here that Howard and Robles go full Sandman and beyond—and never look back.
NOW PLAYING: Euthanauts is a book about extremes and thus is best exemplified by two equally stunning tracks that couldn’t be more tonally disparate: Enya’s “Orinoco Flow”, with its jaunty motifs and fleeting, melancholic bits of minor chord angst; the Amen Dunes cover of “Song to the Siren” by This Mortal Coil, which somehow articulates what the glorious last moments of living might feel like.
THE BOOK: House Amok
THE TEAM: Written by Christopher Sebela, art by Shawn McManus, colors by Lee Loughridge, letters by Aditya Bidikar and Neil Uyetake.
THE GIST: You may think your family is crazy—Dylan Sandifer knows hers is. Conspiracy and suspicion drive her parents and siblings down a dark path of murder and mayhem with Dylan pulled along for the grisly ride. House Amok is a frenetic fable with a infectious folie à deux hook that may just claim you, too.
DEFINING MOMENT: The atmosphere of House Amok #1 is thick with foreboding and danger; the further we go with Dylan and her family the more frightening things get. Towards the end of the issue we’ve already witnessed some truly shocking things, but at no point did we ever question our own faculties. Until the red carousel. A family trip to the Oregon Vortex twists our frames of reference until they shatter into a crimson kaleidoscope of terror and woe. For just a second, Sebela & McManus make us feel our sanity slip away.
NOW PLAYING: Any long road trip requires sonic fuel—and when said road trip involves surviving the hostility of surrounding environs (say nothing of your familial fellow travelers), the more angst the better. “Strange” by Galaxie 500 relates to the book’s uneasy truce with peculiarity, and Mission of Burma’s “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” fits the bill in terms of distress and dread. But don’t just take my word for it; I swiped both tracks from Chris Sebela’s own House Amok playlist.
THE BOOK: Lodger
THE TEAM: The Laphams (David & Maria).
THE GIST: Serial killer operates under the blogger moniker “Lodger” and carves a bloody path across the Midwest… and straight through Ricky Toledo’s young life. Orphaned and thirsting for revenge, Ricky takes her father’s gold-plated .357 and plots a course towards retribution—and possibly damnation. The latest peak for both Black Crown and the Laphams, an indelible display of their united creative powers.
DEFINING MOMENT (SO FAR): When Ricky meets Dante, the “Lodger” killer, in issue #2. It’s a flashback, a small window through which we’re given a moment to see Ricky at her happiest before things go horribly wrong. We also get a better idea of the killer’s chilling central thesis, which he casually shares with Ricky as she reflects back to us in his jet-black eyes. In this moment we realize the scope of what “Dante” has taken from Ricky. Suddenly her mad quest for vengeance becomes that much more tragic… not to mention comprehensible.
NOW PLAYING: As I noted in my review for Lodger #1 (link below), there aren’t any obvious musical signposts in this grim revenge thriller. But my Michigan-forged brain went straight to the gritty, angular sounds that blare from garage luminaries such as The Stooges and The Gories. I applied a double-barreled blast from both: “I Wanna Be Your Dog” from the former, “There But for the Grace of God Go I” from the latter.
THE BOOK: Punks Not Dead: London Calling
THE TEAM: Written by David Barnett, art by Martin Simmonds, color flatting by Dee Cunniffe, letters by Aditya Bidikar.
THE GIST: Fergie and Sid are back, and they’ve lammed it to London with all sorts of Hell nipping at their heels. The latest chapter of Punks Not Dead marks the first sequel series for Black Crown, a testament to the imprint’s staying power, not to mention the potency of their ever-growing tapestry.
DEFINING MOMENT (SO FAR): Dorothy Culpepper dreams of the apocalypse. (Issue #2.) Whether Ms. Culpepper is a prophet or that left jab to the eye courtesy of Fergie’s mum jarred something loose, but something is telling our favorite secret agent that doom is coming, but quick. The strings in this broadening melodrama are beginning to pull taught. Things will only get crazier from here on out.
NOW PLAYING: What else? “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols.
THE BOOK: Eve Stranger
THE TEAM: Written by David Barnett, art by Philip Bond, colors by Eva de la Cruz, letters by Aditya Bidikar.
THE GIST: Posh, jet-setting secret agent has her memory wiped after each successful mission. No big deal… until she begins to suspect that she’s been in the employ of some seriously bad people the entire time. We reckon that would explain the millions of nano bombs currently polluting her bloodstream? Eve Stranger boasts Black Crown’s most ambitious high concept yet.
DEFINING MOMENT? Your guess is as good as mine—Eve Stranger #1 doesn’t drop until May 8.
NOW PLAYING: I have no clue as to what madness Eve Stranger will get up to in the months to come, but thanks to this handy playlist by writer David Barnett we can safely presume that it will share the same moxie and verve we’ve come to expect from Black Crown. Martha Reeves & The Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run” serves as not only a killer bonus track to this playlist, but a declaration that Black Crown won’t be running out of steam any time soon.
What publisher would you like to see us cover in the next installment of HOT PRESS? Sound off in the comments, or tag @doomrocket_ on Twitter.