Arcane Secrets (#1 – 3) – Ángel A. Svoboda

3 out of 5

The word you’re looking for is: cute.  This 3 issue mini from new cross-cultural publisher Amigo is a fun mash-up of ‘Itty Bitty’ style characters (as in Franco and Art Baltazar) with a Lovecraftian-influenced storyline of tentacles and words that start with the letter X – a combo that may not seem as unique in the wake of the recent Itty version of Hellboy – but artist / writer Svoboda gives a unique dash of Looney Tunes to his characters’ figures and expressions and the large-scale creature scenes (and covers) are very Mignola, skewing the book toward a slightly older audience.  Which also comes through the writing a bit, which again takes a pleasant note from Looney Tunes and respects its young readers enough to be pleasantly creepy and goofy and not really dumb it down.  The ‘damns’ and ‘hells’ in the dialogue will have to be judged by whichever parent, but they feel friendly and not excessive in their use.

The art is pretty awesome.  Svoboda finds the perfect level for computer-patterened background elements and color gradients, keeping everything that should be primary primary.  And though a glance reveals the influences I mention, the book really does have its own look, and Ángel has a good sense of framing and movement to capture the antics plus work in the classic comedic timing of cartoon responses.  The blending of this with the negative-space Mignola style isn’t an easy feat, and yet it works together really well.  Admittedly, I’d picked up issue 1 on the racks when it came out and flipped through it several times, but the writing didn’t grab me.  Issue 2 came out and I had the same feeling, but I loved the art so much I decided to give it a shot to see if it maybe worked once you just say with it.

And it’s not that it doesn’t.  I like the level of the writing and the gist – Doctor Ment and his buddy Harry live and breathe the occult, and get mixed up in some ‘call-on-Cthulhu’ plans of an enemy, leading to tentacle-infested happenings.  The somewhat staccato rhythm of the phrasings I can excuse as a translation thing (and there are two or three different translators here…); the intended puns and jokes still (I think) make it through effectively.  I guess it just… doesn’t seem to do much with its plot?  Despite there being a swamp zombie and a plant-afro and a flying tentacle and a negative zone, it’s rather underwhelming for some reason.  In part I think it’s that we start too mixed up in the business for it to have an effect, but moreso I think the book is just too pleasant that there’s no real sense of scope or wonder to all the bits and pieces.  That said, a lot of the “include every occult concept possible” mish-mash of the first two issues streamlines in the third issue’s showdown, making the conclusion the most memorable part of the series, and that’s never a bad thing.

I think if you’ve got a kid that likes monsters but the line is fine between enjoyment and nightmares, this is probably a great book that satisfies the monster itch without being frightening or too childish.  And it can bridge the gap to non-superhero comics, which I’m in favor of starting sooner rather than later.

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