Thinking back on some of the concerts I’ve been to, the ones I remember the most clearly and fondly aren’t my favorite bands. I mean, they’re bands I really love, but not at the top of that list, y’know?
The concerts I remember the best are the ones where in between songs, while grabbing a sip of water or something, the frontman would tell us a story or crack a joke. Keeping a crowd of hundreds attentive while you do that is no small feat, and requires a ton of charisma, but it makes the experience much more personal and memorable.
This comic is pulling that off and making it look effortless. If the second arc of Home Sick Pilots has proved anything so far, it’s that the creative team doesn’t need to be playing power chords to keep our eyes glued to the stage.
The very first panel of #7 makes you feel the clear and crisp mountain air of the pacific northwest, the color palette and lighting immediately establishing a different feel for this scene than any other part of the series thus far. We’ve seen plenty of blue before, but this is the warm blue of a new day’s sky. Everything tells us that we’re farther than the ghosts than we’ve ever been.
And yet Ami still carries part of them with her.
Caspar Wijngaard’s phenomenal art maintains a sense of continuity even as we immediately jump back to the previous arc’s climax, reinforcing warm daylight shades of blue as the natural world and the unnatural pink glow as a ghostly violation of that world’s order.
We also see some of our first real splashes of bright orange in our protagonists’ outfits, as if they’re adopting the colors of the day to ward off the terrors of the night. Ami’s orange beanie even covers up her Danny Phantom hair when it goes ghost (so of course it immediately gets lost right before she uses her powers).
This issue also includes the first scene where the colors go fully natural, and it feels very deliberately like no other scene in the comic. Watters tees the scene up with richly three-dimensional characters and a great eye for choice of scene, and Wijngaard knocks it out of the park with outstanding character acting.
Seriously, I could talk about the storytelling and symbolism in Wijngaard’s color choices for the rest of this review, but I’ll spare you because I figure you get the point by now. It’s really fucking good.
Like in issue #6, excellent character development and worldbuilding keep the reader invested through the downtime. Of the two, this one’s heavier on the character development. The developments in the status quo for our protagonists feel natural and earned. The time skip was a fantastic idea, because it forced the characters to adapt to new circumstances and reexamine their priorities in the wake of what happened in California. Everyone from Ami to Meg to the Old James House itself has a strong new goal driving them forward, which gives the story momentum and really engaging stakes.
Where the first arc was about surviving trauma, this arc seems to be about living with it. The ghosts-as-PTSD metaphor has an incredible amount of potential, and Dan Watters is doing great work bringing it to the fore.
Any Home Sick Pilots review would be incomplete without mentioning Aditya Bidikar’s lettering. The borderless speech bubbles don’t get enough credit for how they help define the look of the comic, and a familiar jagged speech bubble’s return takes an incredibly eerie page over the top.
Every time I write a review for this series, I find myself wondering if I’m going overboard with my praise — but the thing is, they’re never content with repeating past hits. Every issue has been another step forward, evolving their sound further by doing something you didn’t think a punk/ghost/mech story would attempt and nailing it. I’m just impressed.