As of late I’ve been finding it extremely difficult to review a comic negatively. Sure, I can criticize aspects of a comic that didn’t come across very well or were executed poorly, yet overall those same comics are extremely solid in their craft. The same goes for the debut comic by writer Caitlin Kittredge, Coffin Hill. Caitlin Kittredge, a novelist by trade, has never dabbled in comics before to the extent of my knowledge. It makes sense for someone whose work is typically dark and almost occultist to debut their first comic at Vertigo, a comic’s publisher and imprint of DC known for putting out all manner of the weird and the wacky.
Coffin Hill is a pleasantly quiet debut. Kittredge, who as mentioned before has worked only in the field of literature, has quite a keen understanding of how to write for comics. She gives the protagonist a verve and wit in both action and internal monologue. She weaves shady, mysterious pasts into the Coffin family by making mention of the history behind the family and developing them as snobby aristocrats with shifty secrets. The protagonist, Eve Coffin, is heroic in the loosest sense of the word. She starts a rebellious teenager born into the Coffin family who dabbles in witchcraft, sex, and drugs and gets a makeover of blood near the end of the issue. In the present day she is (was) a police officer, and has returned to her old home of Coffin Hill.
What I am loving about this is all of the questions that it raises and that it presents no obvious direction for the book to go in. I was left a little confused on the first read-through but I had a clearer understanding by the third. Coffin Hill is one of those few debuts where you can’t immediately predict what will happen in the next five issues. It’s difficult, it’s dark, and there’s a learning curve and a certain patience required for reading this. Kittredge has certainly piqued my interest.
The art by Inaki Miranda comes across like a cross between Rafael Albuquerque’s thick, muscular grit and Frazier Irving’s proto-psychedelic, semi-3D stylization. The contrast between the horror-movie like landscapes and the vibrant, bouncy characters is almost punk rock in its execution. There’s a visual aesthetic here that seems like it’s trying to differentiate itself from the number of other horror comics out there by including a striking palette to match the drab grays and blacks.
If I had to name a flaw, it’s that it feels like this is written more like a novel than as a comic. Earlier I praised it for raising questions and not giving us the full details on the story and whatnot, but this also hinders its ability to draw readers in for the long-term. It feels like it’s structured as a lengthy epic rather than a 24-page story. There’s too much content and plot being built up here that there is little resolution to speak of. Being a bit of a seasoned comic reader, I can tell you that as far as first issues go, this one leaves a little too much unanswered to keep the momentum going. It asks questions but it never answers any.
Other than that, Coffin Hill is a remarkably solid debut, and part of the new line-up of comics currently revitalizing Vertigo. I look forward to what Kittredge and Miranda are going to do in future issues.