Minicomic: Black ChurchA comic review article by: Keith Silva
"Through Me the way into the grieving city;" – Dante, Inferno, III.1
Comic books and Metal go together like a spiked gauntlet and B.C. Rich seven string Warlock guitar; a metric that makes Andy Belanger's Black Church the Kerry "Fucking" King of comic books. On his blog, Belanger describes this mini-comic, this inky demon spawn, as "The Omen in Medieval times with Dracula's parents and Dracula being the vessel of the ANTICHRIST." Dark and rich like a stout, an obsidian chest of unholy wonders; Black Church is, above all, a labor of love.
The comic book critic's bible in some sub-sub heading states that "a reviewer should never lead by writing about the packaging" (something about pogs and poly-bags); to hell with that noise. Black Church comes complete within a 7" X 7" blood red record jacket hand stamped with the beautiful Black Church logo, that is, of course, if one defines beauty by the number of skulls and inverted crosses contained therein. Rumor has it that Mr. Belanger used his own blood in the production of said jackets.*
To read Black Church is to step into a black-light berserker world of battle-axes, pagans and gargantuan bears. Belanger dumps exposition dumps and instead trusts his readers to follow a serpentine tale across ages of winters to the environs of Wallachia and Transylvania. On the inside cover Belanger offers up a map where this sordid story unfolds, because… well… a map in the grip of a four-horned demon, such as this, is awesome.
From this land of ice and snow comes this hammer of God, the Dragon of Christ, Vlad. From an iron maiden like prison, Vlad springs forth bare-chested with a flowing Fu Manchu and in desperate need of mead. Seems that while "smiting hordes fathers and sons," Vlad was taken prisoner by an infidel army and placed within a sarcophagus of which is set atop by a rams-head skull and secured by steepled skeletal fingers. It's a boffo design by Belanger that although it makes little sense -- how'd they get him in there? and who trucked that thing around amidst all the hacking and slashing? -- it's so damn metal.
Heavy Metal music's infatuation with Satan taps into a snotty naughtiness found in spades among teenage boys and girls looking to rebel against whatever is on hand. Belanger understands in his (black-bat-winged) heart that Metal is all about the pose; the machismo that can only come from motorcycle boots, black leather, and chest hair. The wink and the nod that separates the Metal pose from the poseur is humor. Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden were looking to move product and if they needed to sell their souls to Satan in order to put paper in their pockets then so be it; after all, they were in on the joke. Each "S" in Black Church gets the runic treatment in tribute, to similar lettering in Slayer's logo and albums like Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Belanger also clowns around with the Romanian accent too as he inverts Ws for Vs so that Vlad pronounces "will" as "vill" and "woods" as "voods." Vhen -- vhoops, I mean "when" -- Vlad (clad only in pants and wearing a hat that looks like it was copped from the Lemmy Kilmister collection) is asked by his brother how long it will take for him freeze to death, Vlad replies, "Ve could alvays have a good long hug." This is the kind of black humor Belanger brings to Black Church, a beefcake barbarian who wants to hug it out. The PMRC would be so proud.
The medieval and metal espirit de corps that Belanger boasts in Black Church is evidenced in his art. Belanger ornaments his black-and-white narrative with details both mighty (a Wallachian cityscape and a procession of priests zigzagging up a snowy pass) and minute (bloody noses, nipples and semen). In a way that feels wholly organic, in that it serves the story, Belanger coils a serpent's body in and around inset panels of Vlad and Kelda (an old flame, in more ways than one) as they discuss their past. It's a busy page to be sure, but an ingenious primer on panel layout as it leads the reader to follow the conversation and ride the snake. The ending is too good to mar by giving anything away. When Kelda says, "Right, then let's finish what we started," the story amps up way past eleven. When the story reaches its La petite mort the two page spread Belanger lays out is more than apt.
Belanger curates Black Church as a project for his passions for all things Horror, Heavy Metal and Comic Books. Self-published work is the epitome of creator-owned work. In the same blog post quoted above, Belanger says "I want to play the music I want to play." In addition to a story to number among the best of the beast, Black Church is equal parts declaration of independence and an eardrum piercing scream, a belt-it-out to the back row shout to follow your heart and to hell with the rest. Eternal damnation never read nor looked this good. \m/
*I'm starting this rumor; it has no validity whatsoever unless, of course, Mr. Belanger wants to "go with it."
For a copy of Black Church, crowd surf your way over to blackchurch666.blogspot.com and "Abandon all hope -- Ye who enter (t)here"
- Iron Maiden - "The Prisoner"
- Black Sabbath - "The Wizard"
- AC/DC - "Highway to Hell"
- The Sword - "Freya"
- Skeleton Witch - "Released From the Catacombs"
- King Diamond - "Abagail"
The first cassette tape Keith Silva bought was Iron Maiden's Somewhere in Time (Powerslave was sold out). He was once witness (by proxy) to an orgy of consumerism by the band Danzig at an Electronics Boutique. In 2003, Mr. Silva caught a guitar pick thrown by Dave Murray -- from a god's fingers to his horned hands. Mr. Silva has not washed that hand since (you know, metaphorically). Up the Irons!