REVIEW: Hells Hands
Title: Hell Hands
Creative Team: Cabrera and Bitner
Publisher: PM Comics
We, the readers, are introduced to a mosaic of an ancient tale. It’s the usual, heaven vs. hell, good vs. evil trope of storytelling. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” and I’m sure Cabrera and Bitner had this in mind when they began their story. I’m sure the reader may have the wrong idea of what may happen in this story based on the cover and how things progress; however, it’s not my place to spoil it. Something is going on in this world, and it’ll be up to you to follow along and find out.
A dusty New Mexico saloon, in the middle of nowhere, in what’s probably a town named “nowhere,” is the opening scene as we dive into the conversation of a group of men who come across as war-torn. Direct, rustic, and belligerent is the styling choice in their dialogue. Profanity is profound in their verbal dictionaries, and from the first speech balloon, you’ll know this isn’t a comic for kids. It is, however, fitting for the age in which this title takes place. However, I wish it were a little more broken, as during that time, and with this specific group of individuals, broken English, slurs, accents, and speech inadequacies were commonplace.
It’s something I’m noticing, a lot of writers in indie comics are afraid to touch on. While comics are a visual medium, exciting dialogue and speech patterns help sell the character, persona, and upbringing.
We learn more about this group of men, the dirtiness they were part of during this war (Civil War) that is no longer in effect. The things they had to do, the people slaughtered by them, and we see some aren’t feeling up to par with what was down, and they begin to question heaven or hell?
As tensions rise between the group, the conversation is cut short by another patron of the saloon. He has his ideas of the conversation they’re having, and while it was rude to interject, his statements are valid, and in turn, the men respond to him for inviting himself into their conversation…their aggression is now directed at him. However, this may not be good for them.
HELLS HANDS has a great premise. I like this type of storytelling, heaven vs. hell. While most think that this trope is played out, it is refreshing to see because it can be done in many different ways. This story has the horror element, so…if that is your cup of tea, you may enjoy it.
It does have its shortcomings, though. Editing could have been better. The comic in itself doesn’t seem to know how it wants to be lettered. Miss-lettering can be confusing to the reader, and in one case, the panels on one of the pages show to be drawn out of order. It’s either that or it’s the lettering that is placed out of order.
This comic book is the first, and you can tell. The creative team has some growing to do. Again, it’s not a flawed premise, but some studying needs to go into the art: foreshortening, perspective work, and anatomy. The team should also study up on proper lettering as this will help their books flow a lot better. As mentioned above, dialogue lacks in this tale as well. I would expect different speech patterns to fit this time. With that, the dialogue style choices also seem to sway back and forth, as if someone wanted speech pattern differences but then…changed their mind to make the dialogue read with perfection in its vernacular. Punctuation and expression notes are also something that needs to be monitored to ensure it is followed as close to correct as possible.
I feel that the coloring scheme fits the story well. The red splashes helped to spruce up the tale with the shadowed black, white, and grays.
This title is a story that can grow into something great, but it will need some work to get there; however, don’t all comics?
As mentioned, the art has room to grow. You can tell that the artist is new to the game. While it wasn’t horrific, it wasn’t the best either. Some of the areas were lacking in detail and seemed to blur themselves together. One panel that I am thinking of is panel one, on page five, where it looks like two pistols are being pointed; however, the direction of where they are being told and from whom is a bit lost.
While I liked the blacks, whites, grays, and splashes of red, I feel that the color scheme may have muddied some parts up as well. A suggestion, find a way to make the dark areas stand out from one another. Sometimes, white linework helps tell where the characters’ body stops, and their environment begins.
This story follows the good and evil, direct, heaven vs. hell trope, and there’s nothing wrong with that. This type of account will be a tale that’s told over and over again. It is up to the author of stories like these to make their information stand out from the other. To give the reader something to look forward to exploring. To provide the reader with something to feel like this story stands out from all the others. I feel as though this story does that. It leaves the reader with questions. It leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next and, most importantly, wanting to learn more about the story’s lead. This type of storytelling is significant.
I am a stickler on dialogue. It’s something that I am even crucial about towards with my creations. Writers need to understand that you can say a lot with very little. Not every dialogue needs to be a 4 paragraph monologue, say less. However, this does not mean cut conversation short if a lengthy discussion is necessary, and it legitimately makes sense to be there, i.e., gives depth to the story and adds valid plot points. It’s essential to understand where it is needed and where it isn’t and if the panels can adequately hold it.
Additionally, the writer has to understand that not everyone speaks the same. Everyone has their particular speech patterns. From broken English to proper English, to leave out words like “The” or using “Da” in its place. Dialogue is essential, and it helps sell the story. Don’t be afraid of it, and additionally, stick to it. If someone is speaking in broken english…they should speak in that way in its entirety during the whole book. In some places, in this book, you see it happen, and then…you see it revert. As though someone thought it would be too much and then changed things but didn’t catch it in editing the whole book.
Editing will always be one of those areas where it’s hit and miss. I think in this issue, editing could have been better. There are some areas where you can tell that the editor caught and changed things; however, the editor didn’t uniform the editing; it didn’t flow equally throughout the comic. The team edited some areas of the book, and some areas were not, and what made it stick out…was the type of editing, as mentioned above, with the dialogue. It was almost like the team rushed the book, and vital editing points were overlooked, causing the imbalance. For instance, the *hics* that were used by the writer to represent hiccups. I love this in books when writers use *yawn* and things of the sort for expression or verbal action. However, at one point *hic* was written as #hic#. Mistakes like this show it was missed but caught in another part and changed. Similarities can be seen for the font used in the speech balloons as it seems to change here and there. This type of lettering isn’t wrong if a particular font is used for a specific character, but the letterer must always show the font that way. What I mean is if the antagonist has a specific font used for their dialogue, it should be that font throughout the entirety of the book unless it is changed with mood or transformations. The font was scattered with some parts, from what seemed like comic sans to Helvetica to a decoration font. Find the font that’s best for your comics, not comic sans anything but comic sans.
Misspellings were few and far between, though, and that was a good thing. Most of the editing fell short with the other pieces mentioned.
Mechanics covers everything in a comic, from what’s mentioned above, including speech balloon layout, panel layout, and ease in reading. Mechanics also cover covers. Would your comic book stand out on a bookshelf? Is it easy to read, and do the readers know who the creative team is? Do they see the issue number and the name of that issue, or is it a virgin variant? All the essential things. To new readers, comics could be hard to follow while reading so, the final two points that I mentioned, speech balloon and panel layout, help in that ease. I think that the team, in its entirety, need to study this more. To understand panel placement and lead the reader to the next panel with the speech balloons. It is a great idea to check comics and see how those letterers and artists do it.
Additionally, I feel that speech balloons should do their best not to cover large sections of artwork. If this rule isn’t followed important pieces, of art can be lost. Also, it is crucial to know where a speech balloon goes, who is saying that dialogue. Remember, it’s a visual medium…the tail of the balloon; it is essential to be there and point to the speaker. We can’t hear the voice, so we don’t know who is speaking. Lack of hearing the voice is another reason for speech patterns to be used. For covers, it’s essential to know that your comic may be on a bookshelf with many others. What will make a person pick up your comic, as opposed to others? Off the top, the cover is bland and uninviting; the artist can quickly remedy this. Room for growth in that would be a cover with action. Also, have the comic book’s cover tell a short story of what to expect in the comic’s innards. The title sequence should also stand out to gain attention and, the names of the creative team should be easy to read.
However, one good thing from this issue is the pacing. It didn’t feel too rushed. We got to know a little more about what was going on and, I think if the book were longer and going at this pace, it would be well rounded in that aspect.
Note to Creative Team: Where there seems to be a lot of bad mentioned here, keep in mind there isn’t. You have a great story on your hands, and by that, it did keep me engaged. As a novel, it would work; of course, it would need better editing, but, as a visual story, some elements were desired that just didn’t hit home. Don’t take the rating as a sign to not finish the story.
Finish the story!
Most importantly, study, thoroughly, the field that you want to join. Some indie creators feel loving and reading comics, and having an idea, is more than enough to get into the comic game. However, there are basic rules for comic creation, and these rules are unspoken. More so, they pop up when you read a comic, and because of that, these rules become a common understanding. You have to take the same experience you are looking for in Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, and Dynamite comics and apply it to your comic book. If you don’t stand for them, making inevitable mistakes, and doing certain things, don’t stand for it in your comics.
KEEP MOVING FORWARD and KEEP CREATING! This story can turn into something big if you take the time to study comic creation a little more and apply what you’ve learned.