Comic Review: “Fiendish” (Irene Strychalski, Monochrome May Special)

Welcome back to Monochrome MayThe Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things chromatically challenged.

Today we’re going to pick away at Fiendish chapter one, a 46-page comic (more if you count chapter 2 preview pages) written and illustrated by Irene A. Strychalski.

Set in the cold lands of Northern Europe, Fiendish is a horror/fantasy book strictly intended for a mature audience. The project was funded in 2021 via Indiegogo, and there were two versions of the book available: color (colored by Carlos Nicolas Zamudio) and black and white. I personally received the latter (no hard feelings, Chuck), as I find the ambiguity of black and white lends itself well to horror. Strychalski also suffered several printing problems with the color version, so I’ve had the added benefit of receiving my book earlier and having more time to digest it. Suck it, spectro-philes.

Fair warning! – there will be some story spoilers below.

The story of Fiendish follows a young man named Kazimir, a roaming fighter in search of the beast that killed his family when he was a child. The beast is a horrifying abomination that looks to be inspired by H.P. Lovecraft – a mass of claws, faces and flesh that looks like one of the supernatural demons from the Splatterhouse games. The creature completely drains its prey of life, leaving behind a gruesome, mummified husk of a body. 

Kazimir is accompanied on his journey by a boy named Iskel. During one such trip, the two come across a traveling theater troupe. This brings some humorous back-and-forth between the Kazimir and the troupe, but the group is attacked by the demonic monster in question. What follows is an intense, 23-page fight scene that becomes a small-scale massacre before it’s over. 

For better or worse, the pages during this fight turn like crazy. It’s remarkably violent, and there are definitely moments where the battle is shockingly realistic, defying (but not subverting) my expectations. “Oh, so here’s the part where the little girl grabs a sword and – Nope! Didn’t see that coming.

Chapter one essentially ends at this point, with an odd girl named Yeomi continuing alongside Kazimir into the next chapter of the Fiendish saga.

Strychalski’s artwork is a nice blend of Northern European designs and Japanese manga-style artwork. Everything is frantically paced during the big fight, but there are lighter moments that are highlighted by clever visual choices, too. The most memorable is the yammering old playwright’s speech balloons being grayed out, going beneath other characters, and once even going off page, was a funny way to show demonstrate his… loquaciousness.  

I also felt vindicated in choosing the black and white version of the book, too, as I’m almost certain that the monster looks better without any color added to him/her/it. Otherwise, the physical cover stock is thick and has a nice spot gloss on the logo, and interior paper stock had a nice weight, too. 

On the less positive side, I have to admit that I the book felt as though it ended too quickly. As I mentioned above, Fiendish was a real page-turner, but once you finish it and think back to what you’ve read, it starts to feel less substantial. A huge chunk of the book is dedicated to the big fight scene, and while it was a tough fight, for sure, it doesn’t cover much ground, plot-wise. There are hints of a larger, supernatural world, but this first chapter barely scratches the surface. 

It also struck me as anticlimactic that Kazimir (seemingly) defeated the monster that haunts his past before the end of chapter one. I suppose that leaves lot of open space for the stories to go in future chapters, but it also takes the wind out of the ongoing drama that I expected would linger for a bit longer as the series progresses. 

After the main story is finished, there is a lot of back matter in the book including sketches, page layouts, and a short preview of chapter two, which introduces an entirely new another character. This helped to ease the “short book sting” a bit, and sets the reader up to be more than ready for Fiendish chapter two, which Strychalski intends to launch this summer. You can sign up for email updates on the Fiendish chapter two Indiegogo campaign here.

Thanks for reading! You can check out more of our Monochrome May content here.

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