ATTENTION WRITERS - Here is your chance to share your work. Send us your short stories to be published on-line. Click here for details Don't Delay
Traditional SF convention.
Labor Day weekend
Memberships limited to 500


October 1, 2022
Updated Convention Listings

Book Pick
of the Month

September 15
New reviews in
The Book Nook,
Illustrated Corner and
Voices From the Past

September 1, 2022
Updated Convention Listings

Previous Updates


Festering Season
by Kevin Tinsley & Tim Smith
Stickman Graphics, $19.99, 238pp
Published: December 2002

My graphic novel for this month is another that I picked up from a library sale at some point, shelved and never got round to actually reading. It grabbed me because of that cover art, at once clearly indie but also unusual, and its inner sleeve blurb that isn't a synopsis at all but an excerpt from the afterword that looks at the inspirations which led to the book being written, true stories about New York and Caribbean spiritualism: the discovery of a fully developed baby floating in a jar of formaldehyde, the father of a police officer on trial for torturing a Haitian prisoner carrying magical protection to keep Vodou retribution away. How could I resist?

And that's not a bad way to come to this book. It was published in 2002 but set in a New York City that's very nineties, most of the plot built on events that are hard to believe but nonetheless true. Writer Kevin Tinsley sees that time as a police state, ruled over by a pre-Trump Rudy Giuliani, where corruption and abuse were commonplace. It isn't a nice place but there's something about it that remains home to these characters, so we don't find any trouble raising sympathy for them.

More surprisingly, we also build some sympathy for some of the cops who we watch do bad things because they seem to be manipulated by some unseen force. The very first pages detail the aftermath of an incident in which a couple of NYPD officers shoot an unarmed Latino woman dead in the doorway of her own apartment building, because they're convinced that she's really a white male junkie with a gun. We're conditioned to disbelieve stories like that because they're ridiculous, but this is a graphic novel and we see what they saw, so we know something deeper is going on.

And that something deeper is clearly connected to magic. Tinsley throws a lot at us in the early scenes. Sure, the backdrop to everything ties to law enforcement, both with growing incidents of police brutality that couldn't even be justified by the people who tend to justify it and with the ongoing trial of a crime lord's brother, but everything in the foreground ties to magic.

The primary character, Rene DuBoise, appears first in Haiti, undergoing an initiation as she learns that she must return to New York to bury her mother, that unarmed Latino woman. She stays and takes on her mother's apartment and magical store, putting her at the heart of both the police and magic angles, given that protests are being held in her mother's honour but also being broken up by violent cops. Of course, she's the one to whom the real task of the book is given, to save the city from whoever and whatever is manipulating it.

I've read a lot of books and seen a lot of movies that feature voodoo, but this one isn't like any of them and not just because of the hyper-focus on social justice accompanying it. That's because this doesn't look at our traditional western interpretation of voodoo, instead looking at Haitian Santeria and Cuban Palo Mayombe. Crucial to the latter are nganga, iron cauldrons containing sticks and human bones, and they show up here, but in an odd configuration that puzzles Paul Whythe, a cultural anthropologist who helps out the NYPD's cult taskforce.

And it's not just nganga cauldrons. The early chapters are full of Boko sorcerers, ritual sacrifice and death fetishes. Dark magic is spreading, as evidenced when the cop who wants to confess to DuBoise about his part in her mother's killing is pushed in front of a subway train by a rotting corpse. Zombie powder and its use is a constant element to consider alongside the wider story. This is heady stuff and it's right up my alley, though the backdrop helps ground it magnificently and adds a whole new and wildly resonant layer to the story.

And so there are a bunch of upsides, led by the very spark behind the story. That many of the leads are people of colour is a bonus, because they're there for good reason and their culture is pivotal to what happens. It's also telling that, while the primary hero is actually a heroine and a Haitian Vodou magician to boot, people of colour are far from universally beyond reproach and white folk aren't universally corrupt and violent. This came from true stories and any bias we might pick up is backed up by history.

The downside for me was the proofing and the art. The former is inexcusable, because it's as basic as using things "thair" for "their". Some of this may be an attempt to play with accents, but I don't buy that across the board. It smacks of carelessness. The art is a little more excusable, because this came early in Tim Smith's career and therefore it's a beginning as much as it's a published work. However, it's often done well because the problem isn't the quality but the presentation. Many of these panels look like the pencil sketches over which he painted were never quite obscured, so they appear to be work in progress rather than finished product.

Maybe this just outgrew itself. It's clearly independent work, because it handles tough themes in a way that major comic book houses would never have sanctioned, but there are degrees of indie. There's your mate who's just got his first table at a convention so he can hawk his first hand-drawn issue. There's a mate of a mate of a mate who's doing good work now but hasn't landed a mainstream gig. And there's the established award-winning industry professional doing something on the side away from his day job. I got the feeling that this is somewhere between those extremes but it grew and ended up with a much bigger distribution deal than Tinsley ever expected.

And that's great. It's just odd to read something with indie cracks in a hardback format and told in full colour. What I think explains it is that Tinsley did not start out in comics as a writer. He worked at Marvel in the production department, rising to senior cover coordinator and overseeing production workflow of covers. I'm not entirely sure what that means but it seems to me that it's tied as much to printing as creation and that's backed up by the fact that he developed new prepress techniques, something he wrote about it in the well-regarded 'Digital Prepress for Comic Books'.

The success of that book allowed him to form a publishing company of his own using his nickname, Stickman, and it's Stickman Graphics that published this book, a completely original publication, its story not previously published in the typical series of individual comic books. So that explains a lot. It explains the indie feel, the unusual story and the proofing errors, as well as the high quality production values of the hardback volume.

And all power to him. I dig indie work and I dug this. It's a complete standalone story, so no need to return to it, but Tinsley later published through Stickman an urban fantasy series called 'Stonehaven' which looks like it touches on some of the same themes even as it shifts genre and goes to very different places. I'd be very interested to read it, the three books being 'Milk Cartons and Dog Biscuits', 'Subterranean Hearts' and 'Fruit of the Poisonous Vine'. ~~ Hal C F Astell

Follow us

for notices on new content and events.

to The Nameless Zine,
a publication of WesternSFA

Main Page

of Local Events


Copyright ©2005-2022 All Rights Reserved
(Note that external links to guest web sites are not maintained by WesternSFA)
Comments, questions etc. email WebMaster