Cherry Blackbird (#1 – 5) – Joseph Schmalke

3 out of 5

The parts of Joseph Schmalke’s Cherry Blackbird which are probably divisive were not so divisive to me. The opening scene, in which a goat-man emerges from a stretched out anus, is not something I’m keen to reread, but I appreciate that it’s very much a gauntlet thrown down: if you can’t handle this, don’t worry about continuing. 

And while there’s more shock-baiting to come – lots of torture, lots of naked fist fights – Schmalke treads a line (yes, even in that opening scene somehow) which allows these moments to feel “appropriate” to the story. This is perhaps due to Cherry – our lead; devil-infused with powers in order to track down some escaped demons and save her soul – having a personality wound through her generally crass behavior and dialogue; that is, it doesn’t come across as all of this blood and poo being there to be “cool” because of, like, Metallica, rather, there is a story fueling the depictions and tone. Though, frankly, it probably also helps that Schmalke’s art is a bit clunky and non-descript, preventing much detail in these more extreme moments. 

There is a liveliness in Joseph’s work, however; it’s not stiff.  Looking at some of his more polished work, it’s possible Cherry Blackburn’s loose style is purposeful, to a degree, and it does suit the offhand vibe of the book – Cherry’s dismissive behavior, drawn with lines that are muddy and grounded, and suggestive of deeper darknesses. 

That said, the flip-side to this is that the cast is often indiscernible from one another, and script-wise, things move along so quickly that it’s hard to get a grasp on some larger scale events as they occur, which definitely affects the wrap-up. …Which I’m very split on as well. I’m not against self promotion at all, but Schmalke mentions some of his other works in a way that somewhat undermines the story we just read. That soured me, but then I considered I was pretty gripped and entertained by the juggling of bravado and narrative nuances, as well as the ticking clock setup – find these demons within X days! – and though the ending ending feels sudden, it’s also pretty brave, and fitting, so… the experience balances out. 

And mission accomplished with the self promotion, I suppose, as I’m off to find out more.