Written by: Dan Watters
Art by: Caspar Wijngaard
Lettered by: Aditya Bidikar
Designed by: Tom Muller
Publisher: Image

Fellow BTC person Zach said to me, “it’s got haunted houses, mech suits and punk kids”, and I figured it was worth a look.

Home Sick Pilots takes its name from the name of the band the protagonist is in, although I suspect it will take on a couple more layers of meaning before the story is done. Most of the characters are kids either in the care system or in dysfunctional homes, hence the ‘home sick’ part (possibly, maybe), while the pilots part, well, that’s one for you to find out.

Ami is the lead character and sort of narrator. The narration is done in a very knowing “I know right?” way, which suits both the character and the occasional WTF moments on display. There’s a delightful nonchalance to some of this, and while it gets used often, it never seems like lazy exposition.

This book is dark, no doubt about it. Folk get killed in grisly ways, and those deaths are drawn in some detail. But it’s also funny – there’s situational humour weaved into the story, which keeps it light where it could have been relentlessly bleak.

I think the mid-90s are an increasingly popular setting for horror type things as it’s the last time where kids didn’t have mobile phones. The 90s timeframe isn’t leaned on too hard, but the creative team have done their homework (and although I don’t recall anyone saying ‘sick’ in the 90s, I’m letting that go). The clothes look right, and the band references seem appropriate – 90s music nerds will enjoy the references scattered around, such as sneaking beer into a Fugazi show. The crappy gig venues seem all too real; I nearly had flashbacks to playing in absolute dives in my youth.

The art in general is excellent. Much of the action takes place at night, but they haven’t used this as an excuse to be lazy. Instead, they use colour to make those scenes vibrant – lots of purples and pinks giving nice twilight vibes.

After three chapters of build-up, we finally get a mech in chapter four. Well, sort of. A ghost mech is still a mech, right? We get a big old fight scene which brought to mind Neon Genesis Evangelion. The character design takes in a wide range of influences. Some give off a Pan’s Labyrinth grimness, while another is suspiciously like the Betamax Bandit from Mighty Boosh (other tape-based monsters are available). We even get some FBI Teletubbies during the set-up for the next story arc.

Obviously, ‘haunted house’ is pretty much a genre of its own, and there are many great examples in the comics medium, Deadendia being an excellent recent example. I feel like House of Secrets might well have been an influence here. There are obvious similarities such as the 90s setting, female protagonist, the punk bands and the seemingly malevolent house. But Home Sick Pilots feels like a fresh take on the genre.

Green Day and The Offspring both released massive selling records in 1994, and I expect they’ll be referenced along the way here. Like those bands, Home Sick Pilots doesn’t pretend to reinvent the wheel and wears its influences on its safety-pinned sleeve. And like those albums, this is fun, vibrant work that is well worth your time.

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