I’m not sure why, but I’m a sucker for Steve Parkhouse’s art. There’s something in the way Parkhouse creates characters who look real, who seem like they’ve lived in the world, faced challenges, had to make their way day by day, just like we all do. Whether on The Bojeffries Saga, on The Milkman Murders, or with the terrific graphic novel Angel Fire, Parkhouse is a master at illustrating people who are haunted by their past, or by their lives, or by the ghosts who inhabit a mysterious Scottish castle…
Angel Fire is the story of John Dury. John is a self-centered bastard, a bad husband, and, perhaps not coincidentally, a terrific businessman. John has risen to the top of the corporate raider business, and he’s paid not just in wads of cash but also with designer drugs, including a particularly nasty one called Angel Fire. As writer Chris Blythe has Dury narrate: “Coffee, pro plus and a rub of coke in the morning to get you wired. ES to help you party and designer drugs as part of your commission payment. I’ve been bouncing from one artificial stimulant to another for three years on my road to the top. My body no longer knows what time it is. I’m twenty-nine years old. I feel anywhere between eighteen and seventy… depending on what’s fueling me at the time. The city swallowed me whole and spat me out in time to see my marriage end.” Dury is stuck in his shallow, self-defeating life, and when everything hits bottom, he runs away to a castle owned by his wife’s family, located in a remote corner of Scotland. There, Dury’s horrible inner life collides with a horrible threat in the castle, until the story meets a satisfying and spooky ending.
Yeah, to some extent this is the old story of an isolated haunted house where strange things happen. But in the very capable hands of Blythe and Parkhouse, this story takes some very eerie and interesting twists and turns before reaching its conclusion. Perhaps because the basic storyline is so familiar, Blythe and Parkhouse are free to move in some slightly different directions, giving the story a uniquely British twist. The image of the eyeless ferryman who takes Dury to his castle is quite memorable, and I love the strange feel of the old Scottish city buried by the sea, and the legend behind the castle. More than that, I love the way Parkhouse illustrates the castle itself, all mood and mystery behind every corner.
Some may quibble with the ending, finding it somewhat clichéd. But I really enjoyed the intelligent and atmospheric graphic novel from cover to cover. I was already a fan of Steve Parkhouse when I started this book. Now I’m a fan of Chris Blythe as well.