Home Sick Pilots is a wicked twist on the haunted house horror story, but I’ll only give away a few twists here. This volume, Teenage Haunts, collects the first five issues of the comic. The next five will be in Vol. 2, due out in November. It features a heroine who empathizes with the house and its spirits rather than being pitted against them. Or so it seems—it wouldn’t be horror if everything was as it seems.
It’s 1994 and Ami and her bandmates see their rival band Nuclear Bastards perform a show in a defunct bowling alley. Ami asserts that the Old James House, a haunted house that’s rumored to kill people, would be the best place for a punk show. Then she goes missing. When her bandmates show up to the haunted house at the same time as the Nuclear Bastards, the house shows its true colors (hint: mostly red). But Ami isn’t dead and she begins a strange journey to help the house that has given her a sense of belonging. This is not just a ghost story, it’s also a hostage story. And a superpowers story. And a nefarious conspiracy. The promotional materials invoke The Shining, Power Rangers, The Haunting of Hill House and Paper Girls, which are all spot-on comparisons. Paper Girls fans in particular should give this series a go.
The punk edge and X-Files vibe of the story really charmed me. I like Ami and her bandmate Buzz who refuses to give up on her, even after he’s seen the house in action. The house is enigmatic with layers of energies and legends, a character with its own nebulous plans and desires. There are thematic contrasts that ground the phantasmagoric in some interesting ways. Ami and her bandmates have checkered family histories; they go from living in uncaring foster homes to a house that is a most unusual forever home and family. A punk rocker with little to her name, hunting down objects imbued with spiritual power in the height of the conspicuously consumptive 90’s. The band and comic’s name, Home Sick Pilots, becomes true on many levels over the course of the book. The story builds and twists with good pacing and a blend of emotional angles from Ami and excellent action sequences. Some of the character development is lighter than I’d like. We hear the rumors of Ami’s past and we see the emotional toll it’s taken on her, but we never get any details. Her connection to the house overshadows the rest of who she is as a person. Annotated official reports at the end of the volume contextualize the future of the series and leave you wanting more.
The art amps up the atmosphere of the story. It’s realistic only to a point, the people are just slightly more cartoonish than something like Gideon Falls, which shares some similarities in the idea of a displaced haunted house. The fictional Santa Manos, California is there in oceanside amusement piers and jagged palm trees, but most of the backgrounds in the panels are blank colors or impressions of places. The color palette is like a day-old bruise, black, purples, blues and red. Neon color pops disrupt the darkness, adding in the 90s punk attitude. The glow around Ami as the house gives her power sizzles off the page. When the story zeroes in on Ami’s consciousness in the house, her heartfelt thoughts, the page is black with faint streaks and grains of white, like an overblown photocopy, appropriately reminding me of so many punk zines.
Home Sick Pilots: Teenage Haunts earns its M rating with the usual horror comic gore and chilling ghost death stories. There’s no sex or nudity, some people in slips and underwear is the closest it gets. There is a lot of language and drug use. Older teens who are hardcore horror fans would enjoy it. It’s a great fit for adult graphic novel collections where paranormal and horror move well, such as the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the aforementioned Paper Girls.
Home Sick Pilots, Vol. 1: Teenage Haunts
By Dan Watters
Art by Caspar Wijngaard
Publisher Age Rating: M
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)