Writer & Artist: Zander Cannon
Publisher: Top Shelf
Release Date: June 19, 2013
Hell is home to redemption in Zander Cannon’s Heck. Hector “Heck” Hammerskjold, a former high school football hero who ran from his family and his past, returns home for his father’s funeral, and inherits more than a rundown Victorian and a library full of new age nonsense. Hidden deep within the house is a portal to Hell, the source of all the weirdness and bad vibes that hung between Heck and his dad. Instead of running from the underworld, though, Heck and his old acquaintance Elliott, the former waterboy he doesn’t remember, do what any enterprising men would do: they turn it into a business.
Behind Heck’s surreal and supernatural veneer lies a serious story about love, loss, and trust. Heck and Elliott act as messengers to the dead, physically venturing into Hell to help the living communicate with their loved ones one last time. What starts as a job for an old flame turns into a test of Heck’s loyalty, one complicated by the time-altering, mind-bending nature of Hell. Cannon draws heavily from Dante, but with a modern sensibility—the demon Geryon’s small-talk, for instance, is impressively mundane yet flattering, like the awkward chatter you might share with a realtor. This Hell is less typically demonic than ominous, dotted with wide-open expanses of darkness and monsters that are scary less because of an imposing physicality than from their sheer number. This depiction reflects the internal nature of Heck’s curse—his soul is as desolate as the drab plains of the abyss.
Comics aren’t short on stories about male friendship (there’s this entire genre about superheroes?) but Heck circles around that topic with a degree of uncommon subtlety. Heck might be a little bloated and scattered, with its true theme too long in the background, but that turns out to be a canny creative decision on Cannon’s part. The realization that the relationship between Heck and Elliott is the focal point of the book sneaks up on the reader, providing both the bond and the story with a surprising power. Although originally serialized in the digital anthology Double Barrel, this collection is Cannon’s first long-form solo work in almost twenty years—hopefully he won’t take as long with the next one.