Review: “How to Die” (Eudaimonia Comics, Festival of Dread Special)

Welcome back to the Festival of Dread, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things grim and grisly.

Today, we’re going to take a look at How to Die issue 1, a supernatural horror book written by Joshua “J.P.” Plack and featuring illustrations by Bogdan Ristea and lettering by Frederico Avila Corsini. I should note a the outset that this review will include heavy spoilers.

The story of How to Die opens with a flashback that provides some background for Anthony (a name you wouldn’t know unless you read the original Indiegogo page, as it doesn’t appear in the book), who later becomes the monstrous killer known as “Black Ice”. At a very early age, Anthony’s father taught him “how to kill” – targeting homeless people since they are of no value to society. Dear old dad doesn’t exactly survive beyond this flashback sequence, but Anthony grows up to continue the family tradition. Unlike his father, though, Anthony has the power to transform into a Lovecraftian-esque monster who use blade-like appendages to slice and dice his victims.

Once Anthony’s adult abilities are revealed, however, the How to Die shifts perspective to a different character for the remainder of the book, where things fall apart. This second half is an overwrought melodrama featuring a self-loathing protagonist named Bishop, who is the assistant manager of a going-out-of-business video rental store. Bishop inexplicably has rock hard abs and a smokin’ hot lady friend who seems ready and willing to jump into bed with him for an easy hookup at a moment’s notice. Still, Bishop finds himself moping about most of the time, deliberately committed to letting his life go to shit. I’m sure this is meant to imply that Bishop suffers from some kind of depression, but I didn’t find a single redeemable or likable quality in him. As a reader, I couldn’t care less about what happens to him.

You’ll be seeing a lot of Bishop’s face. That. Damn. Face.

Everything about Bishop’s part of the story bleeds boredom. The pacing drags terribly. There are wasted panels and wasted space inside of panels. The very last sequence, where the monstrous Anthony finally re-enters the story, makes no sense. Since Bishop has made it abundantly clear that he’s a worthless pile of shit, Anthony tries to put him out of his misery. But the scene doesn’t stop on the last page, it continues onto the inside and the outside of the back cover. Unlike the rest of the book, these last two “pages” are in color, and the page layout is strikingly different than the rest of the book, too. It’s really jarring, and makes me assume that the creator simply ran out of pages and didn’t want to print the extra ones necessary for it to make sense. It also spoils the last page of the book by putting it on the back cover, if that wasn’t obvious.

Left – Last page, Right – Inside back cover, Me – “WTF?”

The confrontation between Anthony and Bishop wasn’t a satisfying one, either. It took me multiple reads to suss out that Bishop apparently has some kind of teleportation powers, and he called Anthony “Nicholas” for some reason (which may very well be his name, since the book never uses the name “Anthony”). It’s all very bizarre, and not in the good way.

Ristea’s artwork is inconsistent, jumping from ink wash grayscale to purely black and white line art without too much reason as to why. Sometimes this is done to nice effect, such as the use of certain light sources, other times it seems more arbitrary. Overall, the art is visceral when it needs to be and passably decent otherwise, but the poor pacing in the second half is often matched with uninspired layouts. Lots of flat-angle panels with Bishop standing motionless. Speechless. Sulking. Waiting for a truck to run him over. You know… being Bishop. There was one clever sequence showing the route that Bishop takes when he walks home from the video store, so I wanted to call that out.

The book needed WAY more of this

It’s not often that we mention the letters, as lettering, when done well, isn’t typically noticeable. Unfortunately, the lettering in How to Die issue 1 doesn’t fall into the “well done” category. The letters are frankly too small, and some sound effects are hard to make out against the dark backgrounds. It wasn’t headache-inducing, but I couldn’t hold the book comfortably as I normally would, and that’s a problem.

The first half of How to Die issue 1 showed signs of promise, but once I reached “the staple”, that promise quickly died away. The transition from Anthony to Bishop was painful, and the trajectory of Bishop’s story in the second half wasn’t just non-compelling, it was dull. Would I back issue 2? I doubt it, but more dynamic art, improved lettering, and a clear divergence in the story to something more action or horror oriented might sway me. Plus, the book came with a lot of nice bonuses which helped to make the overall package more worthwhile (see video below). I just don’t know how much more of Bishop I can take before I start drifting into thoughts about how to die, myself.

Thanks for reading!

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