Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened once a month to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘Bog Bodies’, out May 27 from Image Comics.

Cover to ‘Bog Bodies’ OGN. Art: Declan Shalvey/Image Comics

by Arpad Okay. Have you ever seen a bog body? They sit—the ones we’ve found—in a quiet museum in Dublin just past Temple Bar; people turned into little more than the beautifully tarnished envelope they were returned to sender in. Bog Bodies is a story pulled equally inside out, the sleeve of a jacket thrown on the floor. Crumpled, familiar and distorted. Criminals dumping bodies in the wet and woods of Ireland and counting themselves among the corpses. The topsy-turvy creates pitiable executioners, impotent guardians, a damsel in distress who is a total pain in the ass. The constant is that running from your fuckups always leads into a deeper darkness.

Declan Shalvey has written a cast of characters who shift with the pressure of the story. There’s a body in the trunk, to be sure, but the criminals in Bog Bodies aren’t tropes… they’re lads. They’ve history. How you feel about them, what they do and how they treat each other, remains liquid over the slim hours we spend in their company. That’s people. There’s no contradiction of character in a bag man killing a friend. But what makes pulp as tragic as high lit is Shalvey’s kind of criminal. Faced with reconciling crime and decency from a position where allowing either one to gain an edge will land them in the grave.

Shalvey has found the perfect partner in Gavin Fullerton’s brooding, smooth lines, as well as the assertive restraint of colorist Rebecca Nalty and consummate professional letterer Clayton Cowles. Fullerton’s feel lends the resonance the small quarters of Shalvey’s story demand. The lines are fluid, bound to follow romance and not documentary despite the everyday nature of Bog Bodies’ criminals. Fullerton controls curve and weight so that the car of a small town crook still has perfect lines. The art in each panel frames a moment in focus, with every other line in curving out from the heart, perspectives that defy physics to serve flavor.

Bog Bodies jaws are the kind Dick Tracy could bust a knuckle on. Time has not been kind to crime since then, the light inside the cab of the car makes an old man with a gun into a ghoul. Fullerton knows how to add enough extra lines to a face to get that anti-Hollywood ugliness bag men occupy. The boy calls himself a gangster and Fullerton punctures his cheek, the black welling up and spilling down the side of his face, a contour illusion turning into a jawbone, the skull of a man not dead yet. He cries, and wipes the mark away.

Nalty and Fullerton work together well. I love the eyes in Bog Bodies, flat black bullet points that lock their gaze upon the reader. The circular void of cartoon pupil stands in contrast to Nalty’s jewel-toned color combinations and the complimentary depth they lend the lines. The palette of the Irish countryside at night is a compelling mix of sea and scene, where blues and greens overlap, and Nalty manages colors with the eye of a printmaker layering screens.

Nalty finds something gentle in ugly scenes, making them more Collier’s than Black Mask. Cowles’ typeface also has a kind of aged, arched solemnity that speaks to Nalty and Fullerton’s vintage techniques. Cowles contends with clarifying gangster patois and making a sketch of a boss out of one side of a telephone conversation.

Every panel in Bog Bodies is saturated with time, all the years between then and now, when the first body was dropped here. Captured between gutters.

Bog Bodies is a bad old spot and what happened there. A story that is barely a story at all, a series of mistakes, blood shed where it has been let many times before. But Shalvey traps us with his victims in the story as it happens, and Bog Bodies is haunting as well as haunted. For one night only, a gunshot that would barely make the newspaper if anyone noticed its happening in the first place can still be the loudest noise in the world.

Image Comics / $12.99

Written by Declan Shalvey.

Illustrated by Gavin Fullerton.

Colored by Rebecca Nalty.

Lettered by Clayton Cowles.

‘Bog Bodies’ hits stores May 27.

More Required Reading…

‘Sláine: The Horned God’ a surrealist pulp saga that never fails to shred

‘Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns and Moonage Daydreams’ an illuminated glam rock grimoire

Lorena Alvarez’s sumptuous ‘Hicotea’ a bucolic celebration of life