Thursday, August 21, 2008

Review: Pixu # 1

Pixu #1 (of 2) is a self-published, fifty page, black-and-white comic collaboration between Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, and Vasilis Lolos. Cloonan's previous work includes drawing American Virgin and Demo, Moon drew Sugarshock and Casanova, Ba drew Casanova and The Umbrella Academy, and Lolos drew The Pirates of Coney Island and The Last Call. Pixu is the second effort from this group; they recently won the 2008 Eisner award for Best Anthology for their self-published comic 5, which I unfortunately have not been able to locate.

As you may have gathered from its cover, Pixu is a horror comic about people living in a large, creepy boarding house. Each creator is responsible for drawing what happens in one of the four apartments in the house. This arrangement conjured up memories of the mostly-forgotten film Four Rooms, in which Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and, uh, two other guys directed four short films all set in the same hotel on the same evening and involving the same bellhop, played by Tim Roth.

Pixu works as a whole much better than Four Rooms did, however, for several reasons. First, instead of four self-contained stories that begin and end before continuing to the next, the comic jumps back and forth between the four apartments. This helps to build the suspense and makes the comic feel more unified. Second, the styles of the four creators don't clash but instead seem like they naturally belong together. Finally, there is an overarching plot -- or at least, an overarching eerie mystery -- that drives all four stories along.

That mystery involves the creeping, jagged black lines that are slowly but surely enveloping the house and invading the apartments of the dwellers within:

(click to enlarge . . . IF YOU DARE!)

These lines apparently are a "mark of evil that forecasts imminent death" (according to the inside cover) and they terrify the occupants of the house. (There also is something else that appears to be the mark of death, but it obviously has a connection to these lines, so I'm going to refer to them as the mark of death.) The first issue spends most of its time introducing the people and their relationships with one another, with some pretty scary stuff thrown in for good measure:

(click to enlarge . . . BUT BEWARE!)

We don't learn too much about what is going on in this first issue, other than that things are quickly going from unpleasant to worse. Also, several people appear to be practicing magic. Bad magic.

The art is terrific, as you would expect from these four accomplished artists. They do a good job conveying a sense of impending doom and a somewhat stifling atmosphere of evil and unhappiness. Horror is a difficult thing to pull off in comics, since you really can't control how fast the reader moves from panel to panel and page to page and since things that might look scary, when seen on a movie screen for instance, often just look silly on a printed page. Here, these four artists not only succeeded in creating a genuine sense of terror, but they absolutely knocked it out of the park.

Beyond the somewhat straightforward supernatural horror mystery, I came away with a strong sense that although these black lines of death in the comic book mean actual death to the characters, they also represent a kind of creative death for the comic's artists. They are, after all, unruly, inky, splotchy black lines that are overtaking the panels of the comic, blotting out the clean, simple drawings underneath. Early on, one character states, "They say cleanliness is next to godliness. Let's hope they're right." And cleanliness is one goal in comic book creation, since clean art helps tell your story.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I'm pretty sure I'm not, if only because of the following sequence:

(click to enlarge . . . BOO!)

That's right, that's an artist's easel with a nice white piece of paper being attacked by the black lines. For me, that was a definite signal that Cloonan, Moon, Ba, and Lolos were telling a story that, yes, was about people confronting death, but also about their own fears as artists. We'll see how that plays out in issue two.

I highly recommend this book. It was enjoyable, well-crafted, and scary. The creators wrote on the inside back cover, "This comic was made out of our love for comics, our chosen form of art to reflect the themes and pathos of our world." That love for comics shines through in this excellent piece of work.

By the way, Pixu #1 had a limited print run of 1000, all copies are signed and numbered, and only are available at, so if you are interested in this, order one ASAP. Pixu #2, which concludes the series, is due out in September.


  1. I think you're totally on the money about the subtext of this comic (re: the black lines ov art death).

    "5" had a similar meta-thing going on about the creative impulse, about where people get ideas, all wrapped up in quick little stories. I was pretty sure this would have something too, but I didn't have too much of an opportunity to look when my copy arrived yesterday

    That bit in the back about "themes and pathos of our world" was calling out to me that there's something deeper here, and you nailed it. There seems to be a cartoonists paranoia about inking ('cause that's perminant!) and making mistakes drawn out into a larger metaphorical narrative about mistakes and life and death.


    yo' ma

    most excellent!