Review: Rose Black and Rose Black - Demon Seed / Written by: Ed Murphy & Tom Campbell / Illustrated by: Various Artists / Published by: Rough Cut Comics / Format: Paperback / Release Date: Out Now
When a 600 year-old vampire comes out of retirement for the British Secret Services to war against a criminal branch that has infiltrated the Vatican, the results are suitably bloodthirsty. Rose Black channels the late 1990s boom for Bad Girl comics through the kind of cut-throat sensibility that you’d associate with 2000 AD.
Glasgow-based Rough Cut Comics launched at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999 with an eye to producing comics both based-upon and that could inspire feature films and video games. That’s no longer a fashionable thing to admit to in this age when the Cowboys & Aliens graphic was finally released as a flimsy sales pitch for an equally-flimsy film, but Rough Cut’s early comics based on Brian Yuzna’s Society prove that they have a sensibility that’s far from such lightweight, mainstream material.
Rose Black is an interesting graphic novel, because all of the ingredients that come together to make the plot are indicative of something titillating and exploitative, of a smoking-hot vampire that gets the job done in-between showers and tearing people's throats out, but that just isn’t how Rose Black plays out. Those elements are very much present, but there’s a depth to the plot, sincerity to the dialogue and a level of attention to detail in the artwork that you’d never find in the cheap Bad Girl comics that I’m comparing it to. The black-and-white art by Jaeson Finn and Colin Barr is simply fantastic and could stand up alongside the best that EC Comics or 2000 AD have ever had to offer. Rose Black harks back to a less self-conscious era, when nobody cared if their comic was a play on familiar themes, they just wanted to tell the best possible story that they could. I enjoyed Rose Black in spite of my preconceptions and it’s genuinely a much better book than I hoped it would be.
I wish that I could be as positive about the sequel, Rose Black: Demon Seed, written by the same team of Ed Murphy and Tom Campbell, but this book serves more as a lesson in what different results can be interpreted from the same material by different artists. Demon Seed is in full colour, which should allow it to better compete in the current market, but sadly the page layouts are less ambitious, the facial expressions of the characters less convincing and it’s buried under colouring that seriously disagreed with me. The intent is very clearly for the colouring to add depth and realism to the character’s faces but instead the colourist achieves the opposite, making the characters less convincing and more artificial.
Ed Murphy impressed me at Thought Bubble last year with his approach to comics and won me over with Rose Black, which was at the very least an Eight Star book. For horror fans, particularly readers that feel nostalgic about comics before the 1990s boom and subsequent descent into style-over-content and then decompressed writing-for-trades, you’re going to love Rose Black. That the colouring hindered my enjoyment of the sequel is unfortunate, but certainly something that needn’t be a factor for Rough Cut’s future releases.