Review: Red Room #1
Fresh off a couple of illustrated Wikipedia summary comics, writer/artist Ed Piskor turns in his first comic of original content in nine years, Red Room #1. It shows the inner workings of Red Rooms, which are online webcam sites on the dark web where viewers pay in cryptocurrency to watch cartoonish figures murder people in creative ways. There’s also a parallel story of Davis Mayfield, a pathetic, hypocritical court clerk, who is dealing with the death of his wife and daughter in a drunk driving accident and trying to provide for his surviving daughter, Brianna, to go to NYU. Piskor does a much better job handling the chat room banter and drawing the truly grotesque ways in which the even more gruesome-looking victims of the Red Rooms are dispatched than showing the real world of tragedy, loss, and even simple things like jobs and conversations. With the exception of Brianna and her friend, who are written like 1990s transplants instead of present-day teenagers (And it’s probably for the best.), the cast of Red Room, both in the “real world” and the complex are meant to be objects of derision, laughter, and disgust.
If I had to describe Red Room #1 in one catchy pull quote, it would be “The Invisibles for incels.” There’s conspiracies, initiations, and a cast of characters in fetish wear with names connected to Aleister Crowley. However, the only thing they’re hiding is unfettered exploitation with the origin of the “herd” or “cows” that Mistress Pentagram (A Red Room exec, I guess.) being more chilling than the actual on-panel violence. And Ed Piskor definitely seems to be having fun with the old ultraviolence creating an immersive environment with an attention to detail in the Red Room’s user interface probably born out of long hours on Chaturbate with the audience commentary adding context to the wannabe EC Horror or Clive Barker style images on the screen. To his credit, he does make references to Barker in the first Red Room video seen in the comic, and this kind of metacommentary acts as a shield his work from being derivative.
Even though there are lapses in his storytelling (The death of Davis’ wife and daughter is weirdly staged and melodramatic, Piskor’s work really pops in black and white, and you can see all kinds of gross and occasionally interesting details in his line art like the graffiti on Davis’ desk and the contempt that everyone shows him. The outlaw comic and splatterpunk comparisons have been mentioned a lot in the press material for Red Room, but Ed Piskor draws a lot on the work on Daniel Clowes in both his figure work and lettering. (Plus Brianna cosplays as Enid Coleslaw in a very old school take on a comic book convention, or maybe it was a dead ringer for East Coast Comicon…) The stylized “ha ha’s” at the cop bar when Davis is roasted for working a desk job and look like a serial killer could be directed towards Seymour or Daniel Pussey or any of Clowes’ pathetic protagonists, and this extends to his facial expressions and the way he holds his weight. Davis is this close to recording extreme closeup videos of QAnon rants in his car, or worse because this is Red Room.
Even though his writing (Especially his dialogue for non-white people) has a ways to go, Ed Piskor does continue to have a distinct art style in Red Room as he sheds the old school, four color superhero hijinks of Hip Hop Family Tree and X-Men: Grand Design for old school indie. (Black and White Explosion, weird old non-Hernandez Brothers Fantagraphics comics) However, Piskor’s plotting is direct to DVD horror, and his characters are definitely stock types as he tries to tell a father/daughter story when it definitely seems like he’d rather be delving into mob and serial killer conspiracies and coming up with different Red Room studios that are scarily close to drawing on stereotypes about sex workers. So, going a different route and focusing on Davis might have a better idea in the long run.
I definitely can’t recommend Red Room #1 as a story beyond some cool storytelling tricks from Ed Piskor. (He uses bullet casings to make sound effect lettering.) However, its utter contempt for humanity and 4chan-filtered-through 1990s nostalgia (Its sole connective tissue to the last volume of X-Men: Grand Design.) and dusty old paperbacks perspective on what makes society tick stimulates the doom-scrolling through Facebook comment threads and binge-watching 90 Day Fiance part of my brain so I might be making a return visit to this book…
Story: Ed Piskor Art: Ed Piskor
Story: 5.0 Art: 7.0 Overall: 5.8 Recommendation: Pass
Fantagraphics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review