Devil Dealers: Our Tapestry is Alive and Well

I’m not usually a big horror person.  Despite this, I’ve somehow accumulated a good amount of horror knowledge over the years, and I’ve also developed a great appreciation for what horror stories can offer across media—especially work by Stephen King, George Romero, Mikhail Bulgakov, and certain elements of Marvel’s Blade and DC’s The Spectre.  But for one reason or another, being frightened by satire is more appealing to me than blatant dismemberment.

Literature about the devil unsettles me even more.  I am one of those many rational, scientifically-minded individuals in this world who still absolutely refuse to watch The Exorcist.  There’s just something about that area that bothers me at my very core—probably because it represents the most evil thing(s) in the universe on many different levels.  No pun intended for all of you Dante fans out there.

I do, however, peripherally know that as scary as the devil can be, he is simultaneously the center of a much richer history of literature, including more lighthearted, humorous storytelling, verbally passed down as folk tales, put to paper by Washington Irving, and televised on The Simpsons.  These stories include horror elements to be sure, but they are not chiefly horror.

This is the kind of story delivered by Devil Dealers—from what I can tell, this graphic novel by and large knows all of the above and lives up to that potential.

Before reading Devil Dealers, I had heard of Markosia Enterprises, the publisher of the book, but not writer Ross May, who has written for Mirage Studios, or artist Brett Wood, who was also the artist on Markosia’s The Silver Bullet.

You should keep your eyes on them if you’re not already familiar with their work.  Devil Dealers is a fresh, very enjoyable modern folk tale that adds to the overall body of work on everyone’s most feared villain (omitting clowns).

Devil Dealers is about Greg Gagné, a man who loves to make a buck playing cards.  One day, he winds up beating the devil at poker and, in the process, he gets entangled with three others who are trying to catch the evil entity for reasons I won’t reveal here.  Needless to say, Gagné joins their cause, and events ensue.

From the very beginning, Devil Dealers pulled me in with one first-rate witticism after another, and it rarely let up.  The story is crafted around a carefree sense of humor—no matter how heavy things should be getting for the characters, they never see them that way.  They see their world for what it is and address it as such.

This is a world in which the devil pops in and out of reality as he pleases, continuously transforming in front of hundreds of people.  Regardless of religious belief, I think many of us can agree that not many of us have seen this kind of thing happen, at least not enough to be carefree about it.  In the case of Devil Dealers, if a character looking for the devil sees the latter on a street corner, he or she assertively calls the latter out on it while onlookers continue to go about their business.  The closest thing I can compare this tone to is that of the original Mr. Peabody and Sherman episodes—which is, of course, always awesome.  Concerning Devil Dealers, it pumps everything full of life, from the narration to the reveals.  It creates great logic and dynamics, and the way it’s all verbalized is very skillful.

What also quickly develops with this matter-of-fact spirit is an atmosphere intuitively heavy with suspicion.  The characters are used to their world, but it doesn’t change the fact that anything could happen at any time.  Much like in The Matrix, with an omnipotent evil spirit in existence, anyone can become an enemy at any time.  By the end of the story, we’re not fully prepared, but every rule learned is a nugget to be cherished.

That’s not to say that this story doesn’t also have heart.  Much like the antagonist of the story’s home, it’s there underneath it all.  There is an insightful writer behind this story, with depth present in almost every setting and word.  The characters and the scenes in which they find themselves all bring the story forward in interesting ways.  And most of the time, you know where the beats are.  On the whole, what is both said and unsaid is very creative, very heartfelt, and very cool.  Many moments jumped off the page for me.

At times, the larger carefree tone can diminish the story’s sense of conflict, and not all of the moments quite hit their marks, but I very much enjoy where the overall story goes.  It doesn’t completely take you where you think it’s going to take you, and by the end, it throws you a few great curveballs.

The clear insight behind this graphic novel also does a lot in terms of replay value.  Besides a lot of clever general references, Devil Dealers is filled with many overt references to other devil-related works.  It also has an incredible amount of more subtle details that made me double-take—were they coincidences, or purposeful?  For instance, is a cruel man in a bowler hat a conscious reference to Azazello in The Master and Margarita, or do these kinds of stories just lend themselves to including cruel men in bowler hats?

Like any good piece of sequential art, the drawings in Devil Dealers combine with the words to create the kind of uniquely engaging reading experience that makes us as comic fans continue to flock to the medium.  Devil Dealers uses its panels and spaces very well, in both how they reveal themselves to the eye and what can ultimately be analyzed within them.  This is my favorite part of the visual aspect of the book.

The images themselves within the panels remind me very much of the early work by Mirage Studios, only a more honed version of it.  I’m not sure if it’s a conscious influence, and Brett Wood certainly has his own style, but I think the artwork retains that simple yet unkempt, layered look.  I think some people will dig this style and others won’t, but either way, it shouldn’t discourage anyone from checking out the book.  In my opinion, I think the art both bolsters the story’s tone and keeps it at a bit of a distance, but much like the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stories with which we fell so much in love, the artwork backs up irreverent fun and real human drama, which do in fact combine together in some very striking moments.

Furthermore, the visuals enrich the layered intent of the writing, which only does more for the replay value.

And again, there are the coincidences.  Is that lettering supposed to remind me of Etrigan and Mephisto?  Is that scene supposed to remind me of that part in The Last Temptation of Christ (book and movie) when Jesus accepts his mission?  Am I supposed to be suspicious of all of those seemingly innocuous yet possibly knowing individuals—or should I say culprits?!—in the background?

More than being entertaining, Devil Dealers does what a good story should do in the grand scheme of things.  It adds something valuable to the works existing before it as our discourse continues forward.  Regardless of whether or not you dig the book’s style, it is a lively, creative combination of the familiar and the new, which always gives people good things to talk about.  And, more specifically, although it may be a little rough around the edges, it uses sequential storytelling very well, too, which gives the likes of you and me a lot to talk about.

More importantly, I think there is a good universe here with good characters.  There is a lot about it I want to know, more I want to see done, and I would enjoy further use of its unique voice.  I will be keeping my eyes out for further work from Ross May, Brett Wood, inkers Victor and Ayela Moya, and colorist Kirsty Swan, and any further adventures from the Devil Dealers world.  Each outing can only get better.  As much as the antagonist of this story would have you think otherwise, this world’s fun is pure through and through.

Devil Dealers is a great place for anyone to revisit a classic and central area of our collective tapestry, whether it is seasoned fans or readers who are completely new to the subject.  Because most of all, I for one love a good story, and Devil Dealers certainly has much to say while having a great old time saying it.  And I have a feeling that the more you know, the more it tells you.

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With a background in television production, film studies, and communication theory, Ian Boucher earned his Master of Library and Information Science at Kent State University to become a librarian to advocate for information literacy. He is fascinated with the stories cultures tell themselves, and writes about film and comics in that regard. Continue the conversation with him on Twitter @Ian_Boucher.

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Also by Ian Boucher:

Humans and Paragons: Essays on Super-Hero Justice

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