Ginger Nuts of Horror
Apollo Unbound is a 34 page comic book presented on sepia/light cream paper, with the interior art in greyscale, written by Chris Kelso, and illustrated by Jim Agpalza. FULL DISCLOSURE: Agpalza once provided an illustration for a short story of mine, which appeared in Splatterpunk Zine #5. This is my first encounter with Kelso’s work.
Also, while I do read comics, I have a woefully limited vocabulary when it comes to describing visual art, a subject about which I am almost entirely ignorant. So apologies in advance to both you and Mr. Agpalza - I’ll do my best.
Apollo Unbound is set in Ayrshire, and tells the story of Apollo Galloway, a Hollywood A-lister and philanthropist/campaigner, who unexpectedly finds himself alone in a squalid flat in a run down neighbourhood of this scottish town, with no memory of how he got there. We then follow him as he meets various local characters and tries to make sense of his surroundings.
The whole comic is also framed as a play. As the beginning, we are given a cast list, and throughout, the story is commented on by a narrator (represented by an an image of a sliced open haggis). It’s an unusual framing device that I’ll confess left me floundering, but it’s certainly unusual, and led to an act 3 twist (the comic is divided into 4 acts) that I found startling and unsettling.
Agplaza’s art I found superb throughout - he’s got a distinctive style that I find instantly recognizable, and the character work was rock solid, each cast member having their own distinct look and expression range. There’s a lovely single frame where Apollo smiles, for instance, and his face really lights up - it’s a gorgeous piece of art that marks a very poignant moment in the narrative, and the book has many such moments throughout. There’s also some lovely landscape work, emphasising the bleak environment Apollo finds himself in.
This is, at heart, a story about narrative, and asks some uncomfortable questions about the role of the creator of narrative, and their impact on their creations. In that sense, the story really isn’t about what it first appears to be, and the unexpected turn gave me a bit of narrative whiplash on first reading. On a re-read, however, it made sense of many of the questions I found myself asking first time through. In that sense, I think it’s clever piece of work, and I certainly found a second read richly rewarding.
Overall, I found this to be a fascinating piece of work, with an apparently simple opening (if apparently oddly framed) revealing layers of unexpected complexity and uncomfortable questions. It’s light years away from what one might expect from a tights-and-capes comic book, or even a more traditional horror comic - indeed, I’m not sure this could be really classified as horror at all, though it has some strong imagery and is undeniably disturbing. I’m out of touch with the current indie comic scene, but I found it to be more in line with works like Jar Of Fools, in terms of social realism - though, again, with an aggressively metanarrative overlay that takes it into widely different areas, more reminiscent of underground experimentalism.
If that appeals to you, I’d recommend checking this out - it’s an impressive, layered piece of work.