Author: Matthew Smith
Illustrator: Jeremy Massie
Oh, back for more? Well, here is another horror comic by Matthew Smith from the same double-comic as last week, this one just in time for Halloween. This time, we'll be looking at Bee Sting, a horror story based on 80's slasher films. Does this comic deserve more “buzz?” Or is it too much like the “Bee” movie schlock to be worth your time and money?
(Note: Because this is a published work that costs money to view, I'll try to keep the review as spoiler-free as possible.)
The story is about two teenagers named Aaron and Kevin. Kevin wants him and Aaron to sign up to be camp counselors over the summer because he thinks that they'll get laid. Aaron doesn't want to and thinks that the whole scenario is too far-fetched to be worth wasting two weeks in the middle of nowhere. But Kevin insists on going, telling Aaron's mom about the camp, but selling it as a volunteer experience to put on their college resumes. The two go to the camp, meeting twin sisters Ashley and April, and Aaron develops a crush on Ashley. When Ashley gets a bee sting and April becomes concerned that Ashley's allergic, Kevin and Aaron volunteer to drive the sisters to the hospital. They become lost in the woods, they crash the car, and they're stranded in redneck cannibal country.
In Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, the author mentions the backlash from religious groups that thought that slasher movies were deprived celebrations of sex, drug use, and violence. But the author argued the opposite, that the films actually upheld societal views of appropriate teenage behavior, with the killer forces being the ultimate punishment from breaking societal mores. In Bee Sting, you can see some elements of this, but to a lesser extent. Kevin is driven by his libido, and his actions, even when he is doing something good like offering to drive everyone to the hospital, are tinged with a negative ulterior motive. Even though the other characters are guilty of nothing or merely going along with his plans, Kevin dooms them all to being eaten by rednecks.
Like The Curse of Stranglehold, the author clearly likes the material that inspires the comic, but knows the flaws of the medium and tries to change it up. For example, most people who've watched horror films point out the plotholes. Why are they staying in the creepy house instead of leaving at the first sign something's off? Here, the characters are given common sense and some genre savviness, but the comic is plotted so they can't leave even though they want to. When Kevin asks Aaron “Don't you know what happens at these camps, dude?” Aaron replies “People get chopped up by a guy in a mask.” When Billy, one of the rednecks, takes the group to his cousin's butcher shop for the party (though they clearly just want to call the hospital and get out), April asks Ashley in a hushed tone “Who has a party at a butcher shop?” and Ashley answers “The guy in that Texas Chainsaw flick.” But the plot is stacked against them. They have to drive out in the woods because Ashley might be allergic to the sting, the nurse isn't at the camp yet, and there's no cell phone reception where they are. By the time they consider driving back, they get in a car accident. And staying out in the woods isn't much safer (besides, even if they refused to go to the butcher shop, the rednecks could have just drove out there to hunt them anyways). And when they realize that they won't get any help at the butcher shop, they aren't allowed to leave. The reasons border on being contrived, but it's still better than the alternative, making the characters complete idiots when the plot requires it.
As for the characters, the comic suffers from a similar flaw as The Curse of Stranglehold. The characters are relatively flat, because of the length of the story and the necessity of the plot. I would say that Kevin probably fits the horny teenager stereotype, though he is more likeable and more fleshed out than Carlos in The Curse of Stranglehold, or even the Mary Sue author avatars like Rayne Summers in Least I Could Do, or Ethan MacManus in Ctrl+Alt+Del. These characters are usually do whatever they want, manage to seduce or romance anyone they want, and if they have a straightman paired with them, they usually are dragged along for the ride and have to clean up the mess their wacky Don Juan-esque friend.
It looks like Kevin and Aaron's relationship might be like this, with Kevin going behind Aaron's back to drag him to summer camp, but that's where the comparison ends. While Kevin was being underhanded in his approach, it seemed more out of a genuine want to help Aaron than because he wanted to. Likewise, Kevin had no problem with Aaron volunteering him to drive everyone to the hospital in Kevin's car. But as the trip gets worse and worse, April and Kevin turn out to be incompatible and Kevin gets angry and reveals his true reasons for his actions, and everyone shuns him for the rest of the trip up to the butcher shop. The comic takes a more realistic take on the character type, with some internal logic beyond wanting sex and showing how such characters would actually be treated if they existed for real. While the rest of the characters are so-so, I find myself liking Kevin despite not necessarily liking the character type.
(Note: Under Fair Use policy, I'm allowed to quote the work and put up scans of the illustrations as necessary for criticism. However, the more portions of the book I post, the less of a chance I can use Fair Use as a defense.)
The art is black and white, the inking either done on paper or digitally, it's hard to tell. The coloring is done digitally, with a midtone grey for shadows. The art is stylized similar to Archie or similar comics. Aaron, for example, has a long, thin face with a long nose similar to Jughead, and Ashley and April wouldn't be out of place in Riverdale. And yet, despite a style associated with such a carefree, comedic teen comic, it doesn't feel out of place in a slasher. The characters are highly expressive, and the tone of the comic overall has more of a dark comedic feel. So the style works well for the story.
One effect I liked in the comic was a splatter effect used to represent blood sprays. If the comic was inked by hand, it was done by dipping a toothbrush in the ink and riffling over the bristles to spray the ink on the page. If it was done digitally, it was done with a custom brush made to simulate ink splatters. Either way, it does add a dirty, gritty look that adds more gravity to the butcher shop pages.
The only real criticism I can come up with is that the gray is done a bithaphazard, with some spots going out of where they're supposed to be and in some cases, looking a bit scribbly like the illustrator just needed something to fill the negative space. Maybe if the gray spots were filled in better, or the black ink was used to imply depth and value better, it wouldn't be as noticeable, but overall the art is great.
Of the two comics in the Blood-Drenched Creature Double Feature, Bee Sting is the better of the two. The writing shows the same love of the genre while addressing its weaknesses, though the characters are still mostly one-note and meant to react to the plot rather than be active participants, though again, given the length of the story, it would have been hard to do otherwise. The art is what puts this one over the top, with stylized characters and some great inking by the illustrator, though it still could be better. As for the book itself, I would recommend buying it if you get the chance. Given the two different stories here with strong writing, there's at least one you'll like.