Written and Illustrated by Tony Sandoval
Published by Magnetic Press
Rating: 8.5 (of 10)
“This story of a boy moved to create awe-inspiring axe tributes to his lost love is a compelling read by a unique creator.”
I was the kid who threw up devil horns at My Dying Bride shows and spent countless nights listening to metal with my friends in a college suite nicknamed “The Death Star.” So, when I first read the solicitation copy for Doomboy, I couldn’t help but feel the book was made just for me.
This tale of a heart-broken teen who transmits doom metal songs to his dead girlfriend, does indeed capture the dark imagination of my early metal days. After his Annie dies, Doomboy heads to the beach with his best friend Sepelium. While listening for ship communications he gets the idea to play his guitar for her over the radio waves. Doomboy’s music by make-shift broadcast is so emotionally powerful that he quickly becomes a legend to the people in his town. Those who hear him shred his heart out through the electromagnetic spectrum are completely entranced, and one listener is even moved to tears. Only Sepelium knows he is really D, a rocker who hermits himself away after the sudden death of his beloved and a falling out with his band.
Writer/artist Tony Sandoval plays up Doomboy’s serenades perfectly in beautiful, melodramatic pages that feel like they exploded out of a teenage headspace. In one sequence, Doomboy strums his eyeball-adorned axe on the ocean shore, catching the fret board on fire as tentacles burst from his chest and snake into his guitar. Somewhere inside his instrument they fuse and are suddenly unleashed as a giant serpent into the sky. Another spread shows Doomboy imagining the power behind a storm. He watches the horizon blacken and swirl into an image of Viking Gods locked in mortal combat. Lightning bursts from Thor’s hammer like prickly, electric rivers. These pages are glorious, especially if you love metal. Those who bang heads will instantly be reminded of great Viking metal album covers like Amon Amarth’s “Twilight of the Thunder God.”
The imaginative eruptions in Doomboy are made more effective by the stylized art style Sandoval uses throughout his graphic novel. Many of the characters are spindly, near eyeless creatures with hair that covers most of their huge, cartoon faces. This style really conveys the innocence and charm of youth, and allows Sandoval to express a wide range of emotion in his characters’ faces. In the more dramatic moments, the exaggerated designs easily morph into funhouse mirror versions of angst and ecstasy.
The narrative in Doomboy also succeeds in capturing a time in our lives when we are especially driven by impulse and emotion; when everything seems desperately important. Music. Friends. Love. As teens, most of us felt the world intensely as we fumbled our way through it. Whether it’s vying for the attention of the popular kids, forming a band or experiencing the first gut-punch affections of the heart, these kinds of explorations and desires are what inform Doomboy. Doomboy’s alter-ego even helps make this focus crystal clear. When our protagonist isn’t devil-riffing on the beach, he goes by the name D. However, the font looks a lot more like ID, which is the Freudian term for the unorganized, instinctual part of human personality. In other words, the perfect representation of what drives the teen engine.
Amidst the metal, high imagination and ID, Sandoval also introduces several subplots. Doomboy witnesses his herculean friend kissing another guy, there’s a rivalry with his former band leader and a cute girl selling paper stars pops into his life briefly. If I have one criticism of Doomboy it’s that these side stories never really seem to go anywhere and don’t ever impact the main plot. At first these encounters seem like they will become relevant parts of Sandoval’s song; as if he will piece them together to form a grand paean by the end. But instead he just lets them hover like fingers over new strings, incomplete.
It’s possible that Sandoval intended this. Perhaps the subplots are purposely instinctual, open-ended acts, like pure ID playing out around Doomboy as he feels his way through tragedy. But while that idea makes artistic sense to me, I would have preferred more substantive scenes between D and Annie. A stronger emotional connection between D and his mother (or Sepelium) after Annie’s death would have also been a welcome addition. Having Doomboy pour his heart into his guitar tells the reader he cared deeply for Annie, but Sandoval never really gives us a good sense of what D’s relationship with her was like before she passed away. After I finished the book I wanted to know so much more about the girl who put a hole in D’s heart and traveled to the heavens inside a squad of giant squid monsters. Why did Annie mean the universe to him? Was it first love? Was it more? Maybe that’s just for Doomboy to know.
Despite a few dangling threads, this story of a boy moved to create awe-inspiring axe tributes to his lost love is a compelling read by a unique creator. Sandoval is a Mexican artist who creates comics for a French and Belgian audience. In 2012, Doomboy won the “Coup de Coeur” prize at the Angouleme International Comics Festival and it’s easy to see why. It’s a sincere tale about dealing with loss through creativity in a way I’ve not seen before. Sandoval’s magnificent illustrations cannot be praised enough, especially when they are presented in as stunning a package as the one from Magnetic Press. The new hardcover’s widescreen format and thick, vivid pages make the Doomboy graphic novel feel as mighty as the storm gods that duel in D’s mind.
I was intrigued by Doomboy because of its promise of metal. But I was wrong to think this book was made just for me. Whether you grew up listening to Slayer or just remember what it was like to be spitfire young and full of imagination as you felt your way through the world, this book is a must read. This book is for you.
You can order Doomboy directly from Magnetic Press at http://magneticpress.bigcartel.com/product/doomboy-by-tony-sandoval.