I really kind of love Spookytown.
If you have never seen or heard of it, Spookytown is a series of Halloween decorations you mix and match to create your own Halloween display village. I guess Christmas villages are a thing with people? I’d never heard of them before this, but it’s the same idea. Houses and characters and general townscapes, all with a holiday theme.
The wife and I were in Michael’s a few years ago, and I just kept hearing from off in the store a repeating “KEEP OUT… UNLESS YOU WANT TO DIE! DIE! DIE!“. When we made our way to that corner of the store, we saw it was a Spookytown house. Combining my wife’s obsession with Halloween with my general ease of amusement, we knew we had to get it.
2019 marks our third year of Spookytown accessory purchasin’. This year there is a train! So I’m pretty sure we are going to end up getting at least the train to add to the village this year. To be fair, nothing so far has been as mesmerizing (or boisterous) as the “DIE DIE DIE” house, but… it’s a fun set up of displays. When we have looked at potential new houses, most of what we require has been a good spot to host our Halloween party, and part of that is an area where Spookytown can be properly displayed.
In keeping of that monstrous theme, this week I had the privilege of taking a look at The Family Graves, a new comic by Timothy Bach and Brian Atkins, published by our friends over at Sourcepoint Press. We have reviewed several titles by Sourcepoint in the past, (Norah, Plage Doctor, and Haunted High-Ons, if you want to check out those links and see what we thought), and by-and-large we like the material they put out.
The titular Graves family is a mash-up of classic monsters (father Phil is a werewolf, baby Gordo is a zombie, and middle child Lum is a Creature-From-The-Black-Lagoon type being) and mythological figures (matriarch Bjanka is a gorgon and daughter Nori is a siren). The entire world they inhabit is filled with nosferato-style vampires, minotaurs, and other fables, though I will cop to wondering what the genetics situation is in a world where a werewolf and a medusa can produce a siren, an undead, and a sea monster as offspring. Like, are there weird recessive and dominant genes in this universe? “Well, yes honey, I do have some family history of Horus, but considering your family has a dominant blob gene, I don’t think our son will have a beak, so you should be okay”. Those are the kinds of conversations that would be hard to have! “Our son is a centaur, but we don’t have any… BUT YOUR CO-WORKER DOES! Oh, how could you?!”. This is honestly kind of fun. I want to make up my own Dominant/Recessive gene box for this universe like we used to do in middle school for bean colors.
Historically, when we have taken a look at Sourcepoint books, if there was any frequent issue we found, it may have been in the art, which is sometimes unpolished or inconsistent. That is not the case here, as Brian Atkins (and the coloring team of Dijjo Lima, Brandon Daniels, and Ander Zarate) all do some stand-out work. Obviously some pages and panels throughout look better than others, but there is a very classic comics feel here, as the world is big, bright, and solidly defined. The color choices are bold and give everything that cartoony, larger-than-life look that I usually love, too. Granted, it’s a little easier to accomplish this in a world where the characters are varying sorts of beasts, but everyone in The Family Graves is individualistic and easily recognizable. Both the normal folks of this universe and the creatures look equally well-designed.
The story behind this first volume (called “Fiercely Family“) of the series is that Phil is working to understand and control the werewolf within him by figuring out where exactly science and magic begin to intermingle. In his quest, he finds a mirror that enables people to travel between dimensions by stepping into it. It turns out that there a series of such mirrors spread across reality, and they are known as the Mirrors of Tepish. What’s more, Phil’s estranged father Gustav collecting them all in a quest to become immortal.
Gustav has apparently gone through a lot in his quest for immortality, including becoming a vampire and removing his heart and keeping it locked away so it can’t be staked, which is an interesting idea for a vampire, I suppose! His goal here is to open doors across all of time and reality and use some kind of combination of his golden conductor power staff and the large tower in which he lives to allow him to absorb chronal energy, finally fulfilling his goal.
Beyond all these universe-ending shenanigans, though, this is very reminiscent of The Incredibles in how it takes this extraordinary family and keeps them grounded in everyday problems. Lum and Nori bicker like real siblings, Lum idolizes his dad while Nori resents him for being lost in his work, and Nori and Bjanka argue over what she should be allowed to wear in public. At times it does feel a little bit TOO much like The Incredibles because the dynamics are so similar, right down to the baby who is strange, even for his bloodline (though at least in volume one, Gordo does not prove to be the deus ex machine that Jack-Jack is), but it’s easily forgivable because it’s a proven and relatable formula.
The Family Graves is an all-ages book that is accessible to anyone, and while I always appreciate that, there were parts of the book that felt a bit too light to me. Because the title strives to stay understandable and open to everyone, there were points where I felt it got a touch corny. Or maybe that the stakes weren’t actually as high as the plot was shooting for? Something like that niggled the back of my brain a few times as I read it. But that’s nothing that would stop me from recommending this book in a world where so few comic books are available directly to kids. The villain is bombastic and nefarious, and the heroes are flawed but are genuinely trying to do their best to keep the world safe from peril. Sure some ideas are glossed over, but this reminds me of the Marvel era I was reading when I was a kid first getting into funny books,
The one issue I had with the book was that there were pages I would have to read multiple times because it felt like I missed something. There are moments where scene continuity seems to vanish, and the family would suddenly be talking about something entirely different out of the blue; it really threw me off and made me think I lost a page somewhere. For instance, this scene, which has nothing in between whatsoever:
Something like that happens a few times throughout the first volume where one moment doesn’t feel like it’s the item that should come next.
All told, The Family Graves is a comic that has a very classic feel (familial team of do-gooders saving the world!) with its own more modern take (instead of superheroes, they are fantasy creatures!), and I’d definitely recommend it to younger readers who are old enough to want something different but still comfortable in regards to the art and plot (and are also old enough to not get turned off to Phil’s occasional techno-babble). Not that the book is somehow beneath older readers who can certainly enjoy it, but I feel like this book has a definitive target audience for whom it is best.
I will say there is a good hook to keep me wanting to read on where Gustav shows the kids their fates with the mirrors, but the reader is left in the dark as to what they saw. I really wanted to see what they saw, but nothing is revealed yet!
If you want to give is a quick shot for yourself, the creators provided a ten page sample of The Family Graves to check out, and I encourage you to do so by clicking here!