Writing this review, I kept feeling like I was talking this comic up because it plays to my interests — but when I think about it for a second, it didn’t play to my interests. It made new ones.
The back-cover blurb describes it as “Power Rangers meets The Shining (yes really),” and while I vaguely like both, I have no nostalgia for either. Same goes for the early-nineties punk scene, which anchors the world of the book and animates its characters.
Still, I was drawn in by past reads from this creative team, the audacity of its seemingly impossible to achieve x-meets-y concept and one hell of a cover. Basically, I was open to what they were offering, but didn’t have any of the fond memories you might expect a book like this to rely on.
Home Sick Pilots doesn’t need nostalgia. It’s just fucking good.
The core premise feels like three very tonally distinct genres were blended together into something joyously, terrifyingly new and electric. Even before you set eyes on the first page, Tom Muller’s design work pulls you in with its vivid color, grungy textures, and punk swagger. The second the story starts, the sick (in all senses of the word) neon delirium of Caspar Wijngaard’s magenta and blue 1994 explodes with atmosphere. In two pages, I was hooked. Wijngaard sells every crazy combination of concepts, typically tying them together with an iconic design that makes the whole amalgamation feel natural.
The emotion on a character’s face in any given panel gives them an immediately engaging humanity, helped by punchy dialogue rendered in Aditya Bidikar’s letters. The inviting feel of the human characters’ font gives them all a certain vulnerability, in contrast to the jagged, invasive sound effects. And that’s not even getting into the other guys.
At one point, Bidikar’s letters rise and fall like waves on the ocean to underscore that the speaker is absolutely baked. Every page is littered with little examples of that sort of creative synergy, coming from every member of the team.
They don’t just nail the little things; every big surge of emotion and scope that Home Sick Pilots builds to feels like a silent explosion of noise. The first volume has two showstopping double-page spreads, one quiet and one loud, each pushing the form to its most expressive limits in a very different way.
That image couldn’t function as a comic page if the writer, the artist, and the letterer didn’t all know exactly what they were doing. The brilliant paneling and moody lighting lay the foundation. The lettering breaks all the rules of how the eye is supposed to read text on a page but guides the reader naturally no matter which end you start at, and the dialogue works even if you start reading it backwards. Each of those is the equivalent of a guitar solo in its creative field, and they’re harmonizing.
But those pages aren’t included just to show off, or experiment with form for its own sake; the way reading this feels like setting foot in the Old James house for the first time, walking through its corridors as the basic rules of the world subtly begin to shift under your feet. These panels beg to be read and reread, examined from multiple angles, parallelling the reader’s mindset with the characters plumbing the house’s depths. They used one of their most arresting moments not for a big emotional high, but for tone, pacing, and a little exposition. That takes more than confidence and talent, but it proves this team has both in spades.
You might have noticed that I’ve been talking around the specifics of the plot, characters, and writing. That’s deliberate, because going in blind is a ride I don’t want to deprive anyone of.
And for all I’ve talked about being sold on this comic in the first couple of pages, it’s the last page of the volume I keep thinking about. What it promises for the future is bigger and bolder, in a way that feels like a natural extension of what came before but also fundamentally changes the game.
It’s the kind of hook that could carry a series for fifty issues, and goddamn, I hope it does.
Home Sick Pilots , Vol. 1: Teenage Haunts is available now from all good Local Comic Book Stores, online retailers including ComiXology, and book stores.