Day Men by Matt Gagnon and Michael Alan Nelson (writers) and Brian Stelfreeze (art)
This past year I’ve been trying out a wide variety of new series by buying a ton of #1 issues. I’ve got a good sense of the Big Two (DC and Marvel), so most of these #1s have been from other publishers, often written and drawn by people I’ve never heard of. If the art looks interesting and the plot even slightly worth checking out, I’ve done so. And I have to say that about 75% of the time, I don’t want to buy issue #2. But I’ve found a few series that are amazing. Perhaps the one that has surprised me the most is Day Men. It’s by writers and artists I know nothing about, and it’s from a publisher — Boom! Studios — that I don’t know much about. It’s also about vampires, and I’m sick of vampires. There are too many books, comics, movies and TV shows in the genre (and I live in the small town where they film most of Vampire Diaries). But the art was so good, that I actually purchased a comic about vampires. So if you too hate vampire-inspired art, you’re still going to want to read Day Men. I promise.
Why will you enjoy Day Men? First, you will like it because of Brian Stelfreeze. Apparently this comic is the first series he’s agreed to do in years (which I suppose is why I hadn’t heard of him). And the comic hasn’t come out consistently on a monthly basis because the artistic team is making sure Stelfreeze has enough time to make this comic perfect. And he is. Every. Single. Panel. It is beautiful even if you never read the words on the page.
You also will enjoy it because the plot will have you hooked in only a few issues. Day Men, or Sundogs as they’re sometimes called, are mortal men who work for families of Vampires during the day when the Vampires are asleep in the dark and vulnerable. So the story’s focus is on a guy who isn’t a vampire and doesn’t particularly like them — and I can relate to that perspective!
What really pulls me in is that I think this series is less in the genre of Vampire Fiction than it is in the larger genre of Crime Fiction and the sub-genre within that of Mafia Fiction. Basically, all the Vampires are grouped into Families, and mortals, to have any hope, must align themselves with a particular Family. The Families we meet have had a truce, but the series kicks off as the truce is broken and a Mafia-style war begins. The authors also make clear that the New Families are connected to the Older, European Families, and that they both are angry that they are looked down upon for being Newer and simultaneously crave respect from the Old Families.
So, if you like Crime Fiction in general and Mafia stories specifically, you will really enjoy Day Men. And as I mentioned, you’ll love the art. It’s very much in the noir style that we’ve come to expect in the best current noir comics that are out there today. Also, I want to add two final points: One, there are moments of emotional tenderness and hurt. The story is very character driven and you really care about the main character and some of the people he meets. Secondly, by the end of issue three, there is a real turn that took me by surprise and makes me want to read issue 4 immediately. By the way, Issue 4, the author mentions at the back of the comic, will bring to a close the first story arc of the series. So, I’d find a comic store nearby, get the first three issues at $3.99 an issue (*see below), and you’ll be dying to find out what happens in issue 4!
*On the high price of monthly comics: By the way, if you are new to comics, I know $3.99 will seem like a lot of money for a chapter of a story, and it is. That’s why I’ve stopped throwing away my money on most DC and Marvel comics as they come out on a monthly basis. However, there are many smaller publishers putting out comics that writers and artists put their hearts and souls into out of love for their art. They don’t make a financial killing doing what they do, but these smaller series often are the ones that make me feel like I’ve got my money’s worth. Unlike when I read chapters of a prose novel, I reread chapters of a comic immediately, usually because of the art. Most comic book readers will read an issue twice in a row at the very least. We like to get the story first, usually paying most attention to text and the parts of the art that are essential to conveying plot. But the second read gives us a chance to pay closer attention to the nuances of the art. After that second read, I tend to just flip to particular panels and appreciate them as individual works of art. Considered from this perspective, a single issue of a comic is well worth $3.99 to me. But there are plenty of other comics out there that leave me feeling robbed. I won’t be reviewing those comics here at Fanlit!