The Watcher’s Test Hamish Steele, No­brow (AU­GUST) Soft­cover $14.95 (240pp) 978-1-910620-47-2

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews Graphic Novels -

In Dead­en­dia, au­thor and an­i­ma­tor Hamish Steele in­tro­duces the bizarre, fun, and dan­ger­ous world of the Pol­ly­wood Theme Park—specif­i­cally, the scare ride–slash–su­per­nat­u­ral por­tal called Dead End.

Steele has been pub­lish­ing Dead­en­dia, based on a car­toon short pro­duced for the an­i­ma­tion com­pany Car­toon Hang­over, as a we­b­comic since 2014. Dead­en­dia: The Watcher’s Test adapts the we­b­comic’s first story arc with re­drawn pages and other changes to bet­ter suit the graphic novel for­mat and court the young adult read­ing au­di­ence. The story cen­ters around Bar­ney, a young man who’s just got­ten a job keep­ing things tidy at the Dead End ride in­side Pol­ly­wood Theme Park. He soon learns from his co­worker, Norma, that the ride is ac­tu­ally a por­tal to mul­ti­ple an­gelic and de­monic realms; a se­ries of es­ca­lat­ing su­per­nat­u­ral ad­ven­tures en­sue.

Norma, Bar­ney, Bar­ney’s talk­ing dog Pugs­ley, a de­mon named Courtney, and oth­ers make for a col­or­ful cast, while side plots in­volv­ing Bar­ney and Norma’s love lives give rep­re­sen­ta­tion to LGBTQ peo­ple. Steele tells a sat­is­fy­ing story within each chap­ter while also con­tribut­ing to the larger nar­ra­tive arc.

The art is ex­cel­lent—a car­toony style, as one might ex­pect of an an­i­ma­tion artist, well suited to both the dra­matic ten­sion and the sense of hu­mor that in­hab­its the book. Steele’s place­ment of word bal­loons and their “tails” can oc­ca­sion­ally prove con­fus­ing, re­quir­ing the reader to back­track a bit or use con­text to de­ter­mine who’s speak­ing. But Dead­en­dia is an en­gag­ing, en­ter­tain­ing saga with mem­o­rable char­ac­ters, and it works won­der­fully as com­edy, drama, and ro­mance.

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