HOME SICK PILOTS, VOL. 1
Writer: Dan Watters
Artist: Caspar Wijngaard
Publisher: Image Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A teenage, punk-infused, coming of age, haunted house, mecha anime, ghost-hunting story.
Think SLC Punk meets Thirteen Ghosts meets Friday the 13th: The Series meets that scene in Ghostbusters 2 when the Statue of Liberty dances to Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher."
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
In school, there are rumors about what happened to Ami’s family and why she’s in foster care. She seems to just want to disappear herself when she goes alone to the Old James House and vanishes. Buzz and Rip go looking for her in the house the next day and run into rival band, The Nuclear Bastards, and find out firsthand why it’s the “house that kills people.”
Meanwhile, Ami begins to act as a conduit for the Old James House to retrieve certain haunted objects that were once a part of it. Determined to accomplish this task on her own and break free from the House, Ami begins to learn the full power of the haunted objects and the Old James House.
Will Ami be able to retrieve all of the ghosts and, if so, will the House let her go so she can be reunited with her bandmates? Can Buzz and Rip remain unscathed from the perils of the Old James House as they search for Ami? What will be left of the town of Santa Manos should the full power of the ghosts be unleashed?
Watters has written what some might call "some fairly dense comics" with Coffin Bound and The Picture of Everything Else, but it makes sense that a story like Home Sick Pilots, which has a teenager dealing with past trauma at its heart, is one of his more accessible comics.
Wjingaard’s artwork is impressive as it has ever been, capturing the youthfulness and restlessness of both The Home Sick Pilots and rival band The Nuclear Bastards.
Bidikar employs a variety of techniques between the narrative captions for Ami, the dialogue, Ami’s thoughts on the all-black pages, and the ghostly dialogue in later issues. Regardless of technique, the comic flows well and the dialogue is never confusing.
The A covers were all done by Wijngaard, but the overall design for those covers, inside cover, and back cover were Muller. Lining all the covers up next to each other, it’s a cohesive aesthetic that reflects the color palette of the comic and gives just enough of a tease of the story inside.
Issue #1 opens with a scene that won’t be seen again until Issue #5 so that most of what makes up Volume 1 is a flashback, which allows moments for Ami to cut in and comment/reflect on things as they happen reminiscent of a reality show confessional that gives the reader an immediate connection to Ami.
The opening panels of the House crashing onto the streets of Santa Manos are violent, jarring, and exciting.
Wijngaard’s color work has his signature pink and blue hues and, although the colors don’t particularly remind me of 1994 when this is set, the entire comic has the look of a remembered dream, which works well for its past setting and as a flashback.
It’s hard to write lyrics for a teenage punk band in 1994, but the lead singer from The Nuclear Bastards screaming “Some shitty derivative thrash shit” is a fantastic line and there are plenty of lighter comedic moments in the dialogue that balance the heavier emotional and horror elements.
A large part of what makes Home Sick Pilots work so well is Ami. She’s smart, sarcastic, and self-aware, but she‘s still a teenager who thinks she knows what she’s doing; she makes mistakes, she takes on too much, she’s insecure and self-destructive.
Issue #1 and Issue #4 both contain a detailed two-page spread of the entirety of the interior of the Old James House that is stunning. Not only Wigngaard’s art and colors that go from blues and grays in Issue #1, but pinks and reds in Issue #4, Bidikar’s lettering, particularly in Issue #1 is exceptional in how it flows from either side of the House to meet in the middle.
As more of the ghosts of Old James House are seen, Wijngaard imbues them with an eery glow that nearly jumps off the page.
Issue #2 begins to show some of the rules of how the ghosts and haunted objects work in this world and Watters was wise to have Ami learn them along with the reader so that there’s no heavy exposition dump, which lets Ami be vulnerable and make mistakes. If the Old James House is a metaphor for Ami’s trauma, there’s no easy fix for her to heal.
Ami’s relationship with the Old James House evolves with each issue and Watters shows Ami is buried by the weight of her own trauma and the collective trauma of the House and the panels that lead to the fulfillment of the promise in the first pages of Issue #1 are incredible, including inventive, off-center, highly-detailed and horrific panel layouts.
Bidikar is a phenomenal letterer and two moments, in particular, are worth highlighting: in Issue #4, the words in one of Buzz‘s speech bubbles run into the sides of the bubble to simulate Buzz repeating the phrase over and over. In Issue #5, Rip’s dialogue runs together when he’s high, plus the speech bubbles look wobbly.
The action panels along with the SFX in Issue #5 are amazing, including a two-page spread with a Haunted House facing off against a VHS Tape Monster (called the TFT Specter). It’s brutal, and Wijngaard captures such dynamic movement. The second half of Issue #5 moves at a breakneck pace.
The worst thing about being in a band, any relationship really, is the possibility of breaking up and there’s a moment when Rip makes a decision that confirms Ami’s worst fears about herself. It‘s an incredibly honest moment for the story, but it’s gut-wrenching.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Although it’s good that the reader is making discoveries along with Ami, it can have its drawbacks, as towards the end of Issue #3, when Ami enters Dead End Video, it is difficult to discern exactly what is going on and may take a few readings to have it all sorted.
Issue #4 opens with new characters and, although it’s only the first page, reading the issues as they came out, it was confusing. It will read better in trade and after learning more about these characters it is intriguing what role they may have in the next volume, but this is one more element in a comic that is already jam-packed.
The end of Issue #4 has another surprise that has more to do with setting up the next volume, and although its place in the story is understandable, the beginning of Issue #5 started to drag.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
At first blush, Home Sick Pilots shouldn’t work because it is trying to be too many things.
It’s a story about high school kids in a punk band dealing with some pretty heavy issues.
It’s a horror comic about a haunted house and the tortured souls that are trapped there.
It’s a pseudo-mecha-anime story about very large things fighting each other and wreaking havoc.
However, Watters and Wijngaard have crafted a story about teenage angst and trauma, with a haunted house as the central metaphor, that takes the spirit of punk and mashes it together with the horror of feeling trapped and alone. It’s clear in Issue #1 when Ami directly compares herself to the House, “I remembered being empty, too.”
Each new issue reveals more about both the House and Ami as the mystery of this series continues to deepen. On a surface level, each issue is deceptively pretty and belies the horror of the later issues. Upon deeper examination, panel layouts and border colors signal the malevolent presence of the House. Watters and Wijngaard have worked together before and it shows in the harmonious nature of the dialogue and art.
There isn’t another comic more fitting of the phrase “something for everyone.” Grab Home Sick Pilots Vol. 1: Teenage Haunts, turn up the punk music, and strap in.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Coffin Bound, Vol. 1 by Dan Watters & Dani
Fearscape by Ryan O'Sullivan & Andrea Mutti
Arcadia by Alex Paknadel & Eric Scott Pfeiffer
If you like the art:
Angelic by Simon Spurrier & Caspar Wijngaard
Phonogram by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
Limbo, vol.1 by Dan Watters & Caspar Wijngaard
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Dan Watters (@DanPGWatters) – Writer
Outlander: Born and currently lives in London, England.
Part of the White Noise collective with other extremely talented comics creators.
Indie Darling: Has established himself as a breakout voice in the indie comics scene.
Caspar Wijngaard (@Casparnova) – Illustrator
Multitalented: Often colors his own work and seems to gravitate toward bright palettes of blues and pinks.
Dream Team: Co-created Limbo with Dan Watters.
Aditya Bidikar (@adityab) – Letterer
Multitalented: Co-hosts a comics podcast with fellow letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, called Letters & Lines.
Prolific: Bidikar has many credits not only as a letterer, but also as a comic writer and prose writer. All his credits are available to view on his website.
He writes a wonderfully informative newsletter called "Strange Animals.".
Tom Muller (@hellomuller) – Designer
Belgian award-winning graphic designer and creative director.
Founded helloMuller, Ltd.
Award Winner: Recognized with a Brand Impact Award for his work on Marvel’s “Dawn of X”.
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Home Sick Pilots was published by Image Comics, Inc. Dan Watters & Caspar Wijngaard are creators of this work. All characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright of the above or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.