Written by Tommie Kelly
Art by Tommie Kelly
Published by 458 Comics
“Them” is Irish writer and artist Tommie Kelly’s latest book. It is a significant change of pace and tone from his successful “The Holy Numbers” that was released last year. Kelly has been one of the trailblazers in Irish comics with regards to embracing the digital medium. His panels shifting size and depth, depending on the story, offering a freedom not afforded in print. He has rewarded fans by offering bundles containing all his work to “pay what they want.” For “Them,” Kelly has taken this one step further and is simply giving the book away for free to download (http://bit.ly/18lJphf). I must admit that seeing Kelly not charging for the book filled me with trepidation, as I believe it was the noted philosopher Joe Ker who said “if you are good at something, never do it for free.”
The book focuses on a struggling artist named Roman, who is spiteful and bitter towards what he considers lesser artists having the type of success that he can only dream about. Despite looking, and in some cases sounding, like an entitled EMO, Roman’s gripes are surprisingly relatable. Who hasn’t at one stage looked at somebody more successful and genuinely wondered why they, and not you, have reached a level above you? (Damn you Kermode and that wonderful head of hair). Roman’s problem is, not that he feels he is being passed over, but that there is some force in the universe that has taken an interest in actively stopping him from achieving his goals. His depression is augmented by waking nightmares of his father, among others, belittling him after he is involved in a hit and run incident. Roman awakens to find he has lost a hand and that the doctors believe the accident was actually a suicide attempt.
As a result of this, Roman’s already fragile psyche is shattered and his depression deepens. Tormented by further visions of his perceived failures and faults, Roman withdraws further into himself. These scenes are incredibly well done and extremely uncomfortable to read. The story is clearly one that is personal to Kelly and at times it feels like you are reading a diary that was not meant for outside eyes. Romans descent into depression is wonderfully handled. His anger, frustration and sadness are done without contrive. Kelly realizes that the monsters of your mind can appear just as easily in the harsh glow of day as the darkness of night.
If it all sounds a bit too bleak, it is worth mentioning that the message of the book is definitely one of hope. The artwork is very polished as Kelly forgoes the chance to litter his story with “Jacobs Ladder” visions of horror and instead, focuses on getting up close and personal with his character as he slips into – and in one beautiful panel is consumed by the darkness. The book is not without its faults, some of the dialogue is overly descriptive giving the impression that Kelly doesn’t trust his artwork and narrative to progress the story. Overall though, “Them” is a beautiful story of finding hope and positivity when you appear to have no reason for either. Very few books this year have the heart or depth to give its reader a real emotional hammering that’s on show here. Its heartfelt and personal message is one that will stay with the reader long after the final page.
4 out of 5 nerds