Heck is interesting on many levels. It’s a series that’s plotted very well and that begins with the title of the comic. Just reading the word “heck” you think of it as a softer version of the word “hell” and you’d be absolutely correct. The story is in fact about hell, but Heck actually refers to the main character Hector that goes by the nickname “Heck.” As I said it’s a title that plays a role on many levels, but this is a prime example of the story waiting for you inside. It’s a story with literal and metaphoric layers which provides an incredible reading experience.
The story itself begins at Heck’s father’s funeral. Heck reunites with his high school girl girlfriend Amy as she and most of the town pays their respects. It’s a small town and Heck is well-known from his high school quarterback days. We also meet Elliot who was a water boy for the team and has fond memories of Heck’s greatness. Throughout this conversation we learn that Heck has inherited his father’s “creepy old house” and ironically he’s shackled to the home he spent most of his childhood trying to get away from. We also learn that Amy is married and that Heck still holds a torch for her, but more so for what she represents… his glory days.
Afterwards we find Heck sitting in his house which is pretty bare. He receives a ring at the door and there’s Elliot again to remind him of the glory days that he no longer has. He offers to help him and Heck chews his head off. Elliot tells him that his life isn’t anything special and that talking about the past is better than talking about his life and Heck takes pity on him. They begin cleaning the house and Elliot proves he’s a klutz by dropping a pile of crap. It proves to be useful though as it cracks a hole in the floor and reveals a portal to hell.
The story moves forward from here as Heck and now a mangled Elliot run a business in which they venture into hell to talk to the deceased for the living. One of his first clients ends up being Amy as her husband has suddenly died. Heck still harbors feelings for her and agrees to take on the very dangerous job of journeying to the circle of hell that the thieves are kept.
It’s hard to say that this story is about this or that because it’s a story that has a lot of elements and supports more than one theme. It could be described as one man’s journey of self-discovery through hell in order to find some form of love in his life or even just a reason to live his life. It could also be described as a story that takes a deep look at sin and how every little sin can add up or ultimately decide your final resting place. It could even be summed up as the 21st century’s version of Dante’s Inferno. It’s not a book that you can break down into simple terms, but it is a book that everyone can understand and relate to.
The writing is gorgeous, which is a strange word to use to describe it but I think it works. The written word is beautiful to me and while the art work is wonderful and a strong aspect of the story, the narrative and dialogue… is gorgeous. The ending scenes are so powerful and the artwork is only 50% of that. The words that Zander Cannon chose would be powerful regardless of the artwork. By the end of this story you will feel like you live in the same town as Heck because you’ll know him and the other characters like your neighbors and friends; making the story all the more personal.
At first glance you might think that the artwork is average or even basic, but Cannon is one of those artists that can take a simple style and add complexity to it. In a lot of ways his line and ink work reminded me of old newspaper strips and I’m talking about early work; ones where the artists would pour their souls into three panels and create something that was intricate and wonderful. Cannon’s use of black is perfect for the story and adds contrast at the right moments. Heck’s design is also very classical as he has the chiseled jaw and defined cheek bones that washes down to his broad shoulders and athletic build. He looks like a hero which is the prefect contradiction to his character at times when he shows that he’s weak and helpless.
Heck is a graphic novel I think that everyone should read. Its story that is full of heart and positive messages which is strange when you consider the setting is hell, but it is. It’s also one of those rare stories that I would re-read again and again due to the quality of the story and art. Just flipping back through it again stirs up variety of emotions which is a testament to how powerful it is. If you’re looking for a story the delivers zombies, a cool concept with no follow through or the eternal battle of good vs. evil played out in costumes… then you might not be ready for Heck. If like me you enjoy the craft and storytelling of comics then you do not want to miss out on this one.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Zander Cannon
Publisher: Top Shelf Comics
Release Date: 7/2/13