Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: there’s this new comic book publisher, and they’re making a splashy debut with a new line of comics. There’s been a bit of that this year, but right now I’m here to talk about the new press DSTLRY and their recent anthology The Devil’s Cut, which features an impressive array of writers and artists, including the people behind several of my favorite comics of the last five years.
Not surprisingly, several series announced by the publisher have ties to the stories featured here. The Devil’s Cut has a twofold purpose, then: it has to offer readers enticing glimpses of what some forthcoming series from the new publisher will be like — but since it’s also an oversized, perfect-bound volume that costs $10, it also needs to function as an anthology of shorter pieces.
Both for me and my wallet, I was happy to see that more than a few of the short pieces in here succeeded at the second task. Was I intrigued to read more? Sure — but with this lineup, that was a given.
Spectregraph (James Tynion IV, writer; Christian Ward, art)
I don’t think it’s coincidental that this volume leads off with a story written by James Tynion IV. Besides his longer-form work, he’s also the co-creator of the horror anthology Razorblades, which features a lot of wonderfully creepy short comics in which people encounter the uncanny. This story, about a man hired by a rich guy to investigate something bizarre, does a fine job of suggesting a wider world while also being tautly efficient in its storytelling. Christian Ward takes advantage of the oversize pages here and does some nifty things with the panel grid to boot.
Shepherd (Marc Bernardin, writer; Ariela Kristantina, art)
The anthology’s first story ventured a few decades into the past; its second takes the reader into the future. This one feels a bit more like a prologue to a larger work, as a scientist and his dying wife have a conversation about the former’s ongoing project — a cutting-edge measure against space pirates. It feels more like a mission statement, though it also suggests that the series will have a personal element alongside its worldbuilding and technology, which is an interesting touch.
8 Rules to Make It Out In One Piece (Elsa Charretier, writer/artist; PK Colinet, writer)
Frequent collaborators Charretier and Colinet team for this story of a spy working to get herself out of a tense situation on a tropical beach. The whole thing feels decidedly tongue-in-cheek, with one villain shouting, “Quit it, you fucking morons! She’s got the Dom Perignon!” and multiple shish kebabs used as weapons. Charretier’s stylized art works brilliantly in the context of a retro spy story, with just a bit of formal experimentation thrown in.
What’s Mine Is Hearse (Stephanie Phillips, writer; Joëlle Jones, artist)
Thoroughly pulpy, this story and the one that follows it both feature eyes in places where eyes definitely shouldn’t be. This is another solidly-told horror-adjacent short, the hook involving the gulf between the narrator’s rapturous commentary on love and the violence depicted in Jones’s art. This, too, feels like the prologue of a much larger work — albeit one with a thoroughly transgressive voice at its heart.
A Blessed Day (Mikka Andolfo, writer/artist)
One of the first series announced from DSTLRY is Blasfamous, a satirical take on celebrity and religion. “A Blessed Day” has a lot of ground to cover in a handful of pages, including introducing the story’s narrator, who appears to be a talent manager who’s also a priest who’s also a demon. There are quite a lot of moving pieces to this one, but Andolfo’s art balances the glitter with the visceral well.
The Stowaway (Jock, writer/artist)
I’m pretty sure this is the longest story in the anthology, and it’s another case of an artist (in this case, a writer/artist) making the most of the oversized format — when the young protagonist of this story sees a giant vessel bound for space, it looks appropriately massive. A solid, kinetic story that leaves most of its worldbuilding implicit, and does a lot with a muted color palette.
Deleted Scene #2 (Brian Azzarello, writer; Eduardo Risso, artist)
I’m a longtime fan of the Azzarello/Risso team and the wide-ranging work that they’ve done over the years. That said, if you’re going to call your story “Deleted Scene #2,” I might be left with the impression that this is, indeed, a scene cut from a larger project. That said, the painted style Risso is using for this project makes the Western setting sing.
The White Boat (Scott Snyder, writer; Francesco Francavilla, artist)
On one level, I know that this is a teaser for a larger project; Snyder has discussed it in his newsletter. On the other hand, if these six pages were all that ever existed, I’d almost be fine with that — because this is a perfect example of how to tell a weird, unsettling story — in this case, about a guy who agrees to visit a boat and finds impossible things there — that coasts on that weird energy. There are plenty of mysteries implicit in these six pages, and I’m curious how they’ll play out — but there’s also a mounting sense of dread summoned from Snyder’s script and Francavilla’s art that’s perfect in its own right.
What Happens Next… (Jamie McKelvie, writer/artist)
Here’s another example of a short story that works both on its own and as a precursor to more works told in the same world. In this case, it’s the story of someone living in a technologically advanced utopian society who’s noticed something bizarre happening there — and that far-future setting pushes McKelvie’s art in directions I’ve never seen from him before. The design of the two central characters is equally memorable — and, again, this feels nicely complete in and of itself, even as it suggests something much larger.
Waiting to Die (Ram V, writer; Lee Garbett, artist)
I think I’m going to be piecing together the disparate elements of Ram V and Lee Garbett’s “Waiting to Die” for a long time. Narration is shared between a man and a woman; when the story opens, they’re discussing fairly quotidian topics, right up until the surreal solar flares enter the picture. Gradually, the story shifts from a chamber drama to something more apocalyptic and surreal — and then the final panel puts the whole thing on its head.
What Blighted Flame Burns In Thee? (Becky Cloonan, writer/artist; Tula Lotay, writer/artist)
As an admirer of both Cloonan and Lotay’s individual work, I went into this story eminently curious to see what a collaboration between the two of them would look like. The balance of Cloonan’s grittier style with Lotay’s more stylized art works well in the story being told here, which uses a medieval setting for a story of plague, deceit, and desire. As with several stories in here, this one also makes excellent use of a stylized approach to color, which both emphasizes the bleaker aspects of the setting and pulls the narrative in unexpected directions.