By Daniel Vlasaty
The Dregs might be the perfect comic book. It has a unique and original story, a too-cool-for-school attitude, great art, and an interesting and involving mystery. In my opinion, it’s the best book coming out right now. Probably the best book of the year. It’s a great mash-up of noir and junkie fiction, two of my main areas of interest. Basically, this book’s got it going on.
The mystery here is great, a homeless drug addict searching for his missing friends by way of Phillip Marlowe. It’s great and I love it, but for this review I want to look at The Dregs as a piece of junkie fiction. I want to break it down like that.
The way I see it good junkie fiction should make you feel things. It should make you uncomfortable. It should make you cringe at times, even. It should make you itchy and sweaty. And if you’ve ever been a junkie yourself it should make you either want to start using again or so fucking happy you’ve moved past that shit because you know what these characters are going through. You know that hurt and that craving.
Junkie fiction’s a weird animal because it’s really easy to get it wrong. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but if you’ve never been an addict or known someone who was an addict or spent much time around addicts it’s easy enough to miss some of the small details. The authenticity’s not there and the story suffers for it. Maybe some people won’t notice some minor details being off. Shit, most people probably won’t. But I do. I work with addicts every day. I used to be an addict, too. I lived the life and I know things. I know how addicts think and talk and carry themselves.
And, let me tell you, this book is legit.
I’m not saying that you have to be a junkie to write good junkie fiction. I’m just saying that it helps. I can’t speak for Lonnie Nadler or Zac Thompson. I can’t say if they have some kind of personal connection to addiction or if they just picked all the good bits from The Wire and the like. But however they came by it, whatever they’re doing, it’s working. This book, at least from an addiction point-of-view, rings so true it’s scary and uncomfortable.
There’s a great sense of grit and desperation throughout the book. It’s in the page layouts, too, and the way the characters interact with one another. They feel like they have lives their struggling through outside of the twenty-odd pages that make up this comic. That’s important to me, and to good writing, too. That the characters feel so real that you can go on imagining them continuing to live their lives long after you close the book. That they don’t feel flat or forced or like cardboard cut-outs.
These are the kinds of stories I love. Because they just feel real to me stories about people just trying to make it. Stories about people too stupid or too fucked up to do anything other than the same shit they’ve always done. Stories that show you no matter how hard you try sometimes there’s just no way out of the bottom.
The Dregs is in a class of its own. It’s unique and desperate and beautiful. And part of the reason for that is the amazing art and colors by Eric Zawadzki and Dee Cunniffe. Zawadzki’s art is gritty and stylized and emotional. And Cunniffe’s colors give the book that bleak and dirty feel it needs. The layouts are great, too. They’re patchy and choppy and swirling and it only adds to the mystery. They put you into Arnold’s head and let you get lost with him on his journey to solve the problem that no one else but him sees.
Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. I’d say it’s a tour-de-force but that would make me a douchebag. So, I’ll just say that reading The Dregs is an experience. And I will forever recommend this book to every single person in the history of the world.
The Dregs #2
Black Mask Studios