“The Dregs” Issue 1
Black Mask Studio
Writers: Zac Thompson & Lonnie Nadler
Pencils, Inks, Letters: Eric Zawadzki
Colors: Dee Cunniffe
Stunningly rendered and artfully told, The Dregs is one of those rare first issues that leaves you feeling both satisfied with what has been told and hungry for the next issue. Coming on strong in the first couple of pages, The Dregs sets up the tone and subject matter in just a few panels. It’s set modern-day Vancouver, which is feeling the heavy press of gentrification, solving a homeless population problem with.. cannibalism?!
Part city map, part horror comic, our main character is a down-and-out addict whose sanctuaries and friends are rapidly disappearing. Thompson and Nadler do us a service with the storytelling-the reader gets let in on just enough, while our homeless hero, Arnold, is left to puzzle everything out alone. The backdrop of abandoned construction sites and alleyways lends itself to his hopeless isolation and our dread as we are brought closer and closer to an ending you can almost see on the horizon.. but not quite. (Hah! As if I’d give you any spoilers). Panels that are populated are often full of incredulous expressions and hostility- you can feel Arnold’s discomfort with the world he lives in, and it’s punctuated and cut with his drug use throughout the narrative. His shaking hands and stress with the world around him lead to the next hit, the next burst of energy and search for clues.
The Dregs is an example of my favorite type of comic- one where the writers set the pace with a healthy mixture of dialogue and inner monologue storytelling, but aren’t afraid to hang back and allow the artist to do his work. Eric Zawadzki does a great job of filling textless panels with maps, landscapes, dark garbage-filled corners, and all manner of human facial expression. It’s a full use of the visual medium, and it’s captivating. Dee’s colours add depth and grit in all the right places, and I can’t help but compliment those red mixes on Arnold’s nose and ears that give a sense of temperature- it’s cold at night in Canada, and she lets us know with all the right dabs of colour. Heavy black work in some panels adds to the isolation and dread we feel watching Arnold shuffle his way through abandoned city streets, closer and closer towards a peril we have already seen the face of. The only relief provided from the grungy colour palettes and imposing darkness are the technicolour whorls that present themselves just after Arnold has injected himself. After a fresh hit people’s faces become distorted blurs of purples and pinks and yellows, all colours just far enough from the realm of reality to tell you that they are chemically generated. The reader can feel the refreshing disorientation alongside Arnold, and it cuts through the grim tone of his search.
Don’t let the cannibalism motif fool you. More squeamish readers will be happy to note that this is not your typical body-horror hack-and-slash gore-fest. While The Dregs serves up its share of play on the human-as-meat visuals, it leaves just the right amount to the imagination. The most gore we’re given is in the first few pages of the story where we’re let in on the secret of where the homeless are disappearing to. From then on, it’s the sheer possibility of being pulled back into the meat locker that lends to the urgency of Arnold’s search for his fellow comrade, no more violence necessary. A found suicide is the only other source of blood-andguts in this book, and that’s given to us in broken panels. It’s flashes of just enough to know what happened, and not so much to shock the reader with viscera.
If you haven’t picked up The Dregs yet, I’d highly recommend it. Even if cannibalism isn’t your usual bread and butter (heh), the character development and fluidity of the narrative are enough to pull you through the gritty bits. Cinematic, compelling, and fresh, I’ll definitely be hanging on my seat, waiting for the next issue. I’d give it a solid 10/10.
Chris is the owner of The Sidekick comic shop/coffee bar in Toronto. You can find her there under a mountain of books, doing shots of espresso off the bar.When she’s not in the shop, Chris does freelance illustration work and tours the city’s outdoor space with her dog Cooper.
Her favorite fandoms feature giant monsters.