Written and drawn by: Ed Piskor
Red Room takes its cues from the underground comix (sic) of the 1970s. This was a scene/movement which began with a lot of self-published work featuring sex, drugs, graphic violence and other things which obscenity laws at the time, or the concept of decency, would not permit in mainstream publications. UK customs would occasionally impound deliveries from the US on this basis until laws were liberalised in the late 90s. Some of this stuff was genuinely sickening, with no great artistic merit other than shock value, and some were pulp trash, but the likes of Gilbert Sheldon’s Freak Brothers and Robert Crumb’s Fritz The Cat maintain a cult following to this day.
With this in mind, Ed Piskor is here to push some buttons. There are some genuinely grotesque images in here that aren’t for the faint-hearted, and even some horror fans might think some of it is a bit much. There’s a vein of dark humour running through it for those that like such things (*waves*) and even the odd touching moment tucked away to mix it up.
The plot revolves around torture porn websites called red rooms, which may or may not actually exist somewhere on the dark web. It’s also a satire on social media stardom and what people will do to get and maximise their audience. There are cryptocurrencies and deep fakes here too – this is a very modern work despite its retro visuals. We also get a few pop culture references to keep us going between the scenes of extreme violence.
Initially, it appears to have a fairly manic and disjointed plot, but things come together in unexpected ways. We’re dealing with some unpleasant characters here and seeing the world through their eyes, but this is handled in a fashion that Garth Ennis would salute. Halfway through the first issue, we get some brutal satire about media narratives, followed by what you might consider a standard internet discourse married to some imaginative and bleak imagery. The second issue continues similarly but focuses on a different ‘family’ of content producers.
The black and white art style is reminiscent of the underground comics of Robert Crumb and Gilbert Sheldon from the 1970s, maybe even with a touch of Bob Burdon. It’s unashamedly retro, but there are bags of detail in every frame, and Piskor puts his own stamp on this style. And when I say detail – if you thought the Saw franchise was grim, then this makes Jigsaw seem like Bambi. There are some pages where I questioned whether I should have this on my computer. Hi there FBI!
This is one for horror enthusiasts only. It’s got some intelligence and a bit of social commentary, but it’s so unrelentingly grim that while I enjoyed it, Red Room was a bit of a slog, especially the epic first issue. That said, I’m interested in finding out where Piskor is going with this.