Sometimes I get the privilege of reviewing smaller books that you need to know about, which is one of the cooler parts of what I do. Sure, you want reviews of stories in the history of Superman and Spider-Man and the X-Men, but you already know those characters and what you think of them.
So I’m always a bit happy when I get a chance to present my thoughts on a small press book you may well not yet know about.
This past week, I had the pleasure of interacting with Allen Dunford over on TWITTER, and he gave me the go-ahead to let you all know my experience reading through his recent release, Pocus Hocus!
TITLE: Pocus Hocus
Writer and Artist: Allen Dunford, Will Radford, and Brian Bolando
Publisher: Source Point Press
Protagonists: Pocus Hocus and Emily
Pocus Hocus is an independent comic published through Source Point Press about a wannabe magician named, fittingly, Pocus Hocus. He is the son of famed magician Richard Hocus, and Pocus’ entire life has been about trying to win his father’s approval. Richard Hocus, conversely, barely has the time of day for his son.
So the series opens with Pocus recounting how he summoned a demon with the intention of selling his soul for actual demonic magic. The series quickly takes a turn–and really, the name of our “hero” should have been clue enough–and we find out that Pocus Hocus is less supernatural horror and more comedy of errors. The demon to whom the soul is sold can’t keep a straight face at Pocus’ name, and when he vanishes back to hell, we get a bit of foreshadowing as he tells some unseen forces that he has another soul to gamble.
As is how such dealings go, Pocus has what he wanted, but still can’t get what he actually desires. His father dies without ever approving of his son (the “Loving husband, reluctant father” on the gravestone is a nice touch). So Pocus goes on and becomes a famous magician, but is relatively bored with his life.
(He also has a strange masochistic manservant named Ivan, who I have to figure plays a part later in the series because it’s weird seeing him spend chunks of the first three issues just begging to be choked and what not)
The demon comes back to Pocus one day, demanding help by tricking spectators at the latter’s show into signing away their bodies for demon possession. Pocus’ assistant Emily finds out what is going on, is properly aghast at it all, and demands Pocus take her to hell so they can undo everything that brought them to this point.
That leads us to the fourth issue, and the end of Act One, which sees the duo enter hell, discover the demon who took Pocus’ soul’s name, and start following the trail of where his soul is now.
Oh, and Pocus reunites with his dad! It… doesn’t go super well.
I’m always a little wary of the art, lettering, coloring, etc in smaller independent books because, let’s be honest, it can be of a poor quality with some regularity. No worries about that here, as Brian Bolando goes a fantastic job on the art. The human characters are vivid and well-done; the demons are dark, imaginative, and terrifying. Jasen Smith and Dave Lentz handle the coloring and letters, and they do really great work, too. In all regards to the physical appearance of the book, it is comparable to ones from bigger companies with bigger budgets.
As for the writing, there is definitely stuff here to enjoy. When I got a few pages in and the book finally hit that first gag, I was pleasantly disarmed. I had thought this series looked to run the risk of being a bit too melodramatic, so when it basically disavowed that, I was quite surprised… for the better.
The writing also lets the artwork breathe. There are several wordless panels to let the art show you the development instead of having characters tell you everything. That means that when Pocus or Emily or the demon are talking, it’s more powerful.
I will say of all the characters we get to meet, Pocus seems wildly flawed and interested, and Emily is level-headed and works well to bring empathy for the reader who also doesn’t understand this world, although she can be a bit dry. The demon is quite fun, and I enjoy his dealings with his contemporaries. But Ivan? The weird S&M manservant? It’s really going to depend where he goes as the series goes on for me. His gag seems a bit one-note and didn’t land well for me. In a book where I had a lot of fun, Ivan’s scenes were off-putting, but not necessarily in that fun “awkward episode of The Office” kind of way.
The world being established is vibrant. It gives me vibes of something like… The Magicians meets Death Note. Except our protagonist isn’t young or hot and has a strained relationship with his dad, so… The Magicians meets Death Note with a dash of Frasier? I just said Kelsey Grammar is not young and hot, but only one of those things is true!
Four issues in and I like the direction. Pocus is being set up as a likable character we will either see redeem himself or fall flat on his face. The demons all seem to be fun and more light than you might expect. A very good start to this new series!