If you are an independent comic writer or artist attending a comic convention to promote your latest project, your time is essentially spent acting as a salesman and publicist. The success of your weekend all hinders on a good looking trade stand and (perhaps more importantly) the perfect sales pitch. It’s not always easy to set yourself above the vast number of likeminded writers and artists who are all equally desperate to promote their work and grow their fledgling fan base. Harder still is the task of convincing those comic book enthusiasts you do speak to, that your work is as entertaining and enjoyable as the mainstream titles from the likes of Marvel and DC. Faced with the choice between the latest Batman or a relatively unknown comic that may never exceed issue one, most will inevitably choose the former over the latter. Which in some cases, is a really great shame.
Case in point… recently I attended the MCM Comic Convention at the Excel centre in London. Amidst the myriad of action figure stands, t-shirt counters, anime inspired cuddly toy merchants, cosplay accessory retailers, comic book vendors and video game demo areas, was the Comic Village. Here the aforementioned comic writers and artists patiently waited whilst swathes of comic and anime fans perused their work, thumbed through their selections and maybe purchased an issue or two. Along the endless rows of tables was as diverse a selection of individuals as you can imagine, each presenting ideas and concepts completely different from one another. From children’s book illustrators, to satirical magazine cartoonists, everybody had something exciting to shout about.
Which leads me back to Eli and his extraordinary pitch. You see, it’s not just that Eli convinced me (and many others I might add) that his comic was worth buying, it’s that he convinced me to buy a comic entirely focused on deadly, killer insects.
“Parasites!” he yelled across the walkway. “Where!?” was my first mental reaction. “This book is all about parasites,” he continued as I nervously checked over my shoulders. “Everything in this book is based on real world parasites and their behaviour…”
Which it really is… Eli, a secondary school physics teacher, was very keen to reinforce this point fully. So much so that the inside page of his comic Squatters contains the phrase ‘WARNING… All parasites found in this comic are real… You have been warned!’ There’s even a diagram of the life cycle of a parasitic wasp, supplied by the World Health Organisation on the back cover.
It’s definitely an intriguing hook. Any comic that claims to be based upon real world events, objects or creatures is bound to attract some attention over the high flying, supernatural escapades of your weekly demi God. But when that real world comic happens to be a near future dystopian horror, focusing on a literal war with parasites, who have gained the ability to control human life forms, interest is definitely piqued.
What I love about Squatters upon reading it however supersedes the real world element of the narrative. Whilst Eli’s concept is original, fresh and quite terrifying, he hasn’t taken the easy option and produced a gory horror rag, filled with blood curdling scenes of bugs eating and infesting every living creature in sight. It’s not that the comic doesn’t contain some rather creepy scenes (believe me it does), it’s just that it offers so much more. The best thing about Squatters is that it is clearly a comic that has had a lot of time, energy and patience put into its production.
Issue one exudes professionalism from the outset. The cover art of Paul Mccaffrey is simply impeccable, a highly stylised work that could easily sit alongside the latest Image comics like Saga or Shutter (this is the sort of work I feel Image should scoop up in a heartbeat!). In reality, the cover is about as horrifying as the entire artwork (of Graeme Howard and John-Paul Bove) gets, which is certainly a good thing. It’s not that I’m against gore or horror in comics, but this, remember, is only the first issue. With a six issue run planned for the first volume there’s plenty of room to ramp up the terror and blood spatter. Issue one’s quite subtle achievement, is that it holds back in abundance.
There’s just enough given to the reader to make them reasonably familiar with the world of Squatters, yet so much is held back, leaving piles of questions unanswered. We learn little of the four members of the Quark team the narrative follows, though it seems likely they will be the protagonist figures throughout the first volume. What caused this new age of parasitic terrors; to what extent has the world been forcibly changed; do the parasites have an ultimate goal – these are just some of the multitude of questions left to the reader’s imagination. Eli assured me when we met that the whole narrative would come together by the close of issue six and that totally overlooked elements and details would have serious and considerable effects on the course of the story. I have no doubts on this front; it’s clear Eli is a man who enjoys working on the details (try to pick out as many of the sci-fi film ‘Easter eggs’ as you can littered throughout issue one!).
It’s the enigma surrounding Squatters that leaves you wanting to read more. I mean this quite sincerely. It’s not an effect all comics (even from the big two) can succeed at achieving; I know very little of the world of Squatters, but crucially I want to learn more. I want to know the extent of the parasitic invasion, I want to know how the government intends to destroy the creepy crawly threat, I want to learn who the Quarks are and why they carry out a near suicidal job. The finest accolade I can bestow on Squatters (and I do have a few) is that it offers a near perfect first issue. Great writing, great story telling, beautiful artwork, tons of mystery.
So if you feel independent comics aren’t for you, I implore you to take a chance every now and again. Failing that, just go get your hands on the first issue of Squatters. From a guy who’s been checking over his shoulders to make sure nothing's crawling up his back whilst writing the entirety of this review, I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Writer – Eli Mamane
Penciler/Inker – Graeme Howard
Colourist – John-Paul Bove
Letterer – Kel Nuttall
Covert art - Paul Mccaffrey