UNHOLY GRAIL, VOL. 1
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Illustrator: Mirko Colak
WHAT IS IT?
You've probably heard the story of King Arthur and Camelot. The heroic rise and tragic fall, Guinevere and Lancelot, Excalibur, the Holy Grail and Merlin have spawned countless retellings, spin-offs, and other works of art influenced by the original story.
This, however, is the first version of the story where Merlin's body was used by a demon to sow chaos and destruction. The complete tale is told in a 5-issue miniseries.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
A demon waylays Merlin on his way to Camelot, kills him and wears his skin.
These things happen to the best of us.
The demon, looking to have a little fun, decides to head to Camelot anyway. Once Arthur is of age, he acts as his advisor, subtly shifting all his actions and decisions toward a more chaotic evil alignment.
It's the story of King Arthur and Camelot like you've never seen it before!
It's fascinating that most of the story milestones from the original subject matter remain in place. This fractured fairytale version almost helps explain the more tragic parts of Arthur's tale, helping them make sense a little more than the original version.
The sheer amount of detail put into Mirko Colak's line work is astonishing and surreal at times. It's reminiscent of Bill Siekiewicz, and it must've been one hell of a time drawing and coloring this comic!
The art style feels influenced by classic fantasy books, a choice that works well with the subject matter. Maria Santaolalla's colors drive the style home with their weathered aesthetic that feels grounded in the genre.
The typefaces Simon Bowland uses also feel grounded in classic fantasy. It's not like they're serifed – that would make them too difficult to read – but they have this timeless quality to them that feels like a good match for the Medieval setting.
When Sir Percivale of Wales returns with the Grail to a Camelot in ruins, Bowland's bloons really sell how tired he is more than anything else. There's a good amount of air in them, and their edges seem ragged. You can tell his journey has not been easy.
Santaolalla uses color holds well and confidently to build on Colak's line work without overdoing it.
Rather than telling the story traditionally, it jumps around in King Arthur (and Camelot's) timeline, which helps keep it from feeling like a stale re-telling.
I never thought the story of King Arthur could be so creepy, but there's a pall cast over the entire tale, which works surprisingly well as a horror story.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Unholy Grail might read better if you know the original subject matter well, or you at least have engaged with the story of King Arthur recently
Nudity, violence, demons, gore all make it not suitable for kids.
The heavy line work, inking style and sometimes-dark palette can make it extremely difficult to parse out the details in some pages. This might be better when read digitally, with a backlight. Unfortunately, the physical copy's artwork is tough to see in bright light because of the glare off the page and in dim light because it's not enough to make out the details.
I find myself wishing for a visual hierarchy on the page to tell you where to focus. Borders are sometimes missing in places or panel layout is uneven or asymmetric and it doesn’t seem intentional or purposeful. But maybe the chaotic layout is meant to capture the chaos within the story.
The non-linear method of re-telling the tale does seem to take away a little from the rise-and-fall aspects of the original story. I think it worked best in the individual issues, but when reading them all together as part of the trade, I do wish for a more linear story.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
"Unholy Grail" puts a dark twist on an already tragic classic and reframes it in a new, supernatural light.
It's a 5-issue miniseries told by one of the greatest and most prolific horror comics writers of our time, brought to life by a fantasy aesthetic filled with shadows and darkness.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
The Sixth Gun by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt
Brittania: Lost Eagles of Rome by Peter Milligan & Robert Gill
Pestilence by Frank Tieri & Oleg Okunev
If you like the art:
Brothers Dracul, Vol. 1 by Cullen Bunn & Mirko Colak
New Mutants Chris Claremont & Bill Sienkiewicz
Faraway by Emmet O'Cuana & Jeferson Sadzinski
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Cullen Bunn – Writer
Test of Time: Has written horror comics for creator-owned titles and superhero comics for Marvel for years
Also writes novels and short stories
Runs YouTube channel with fellow comics writer, Dennis Hopeless (which mentioned yours truly in episode 3!)
Mirko Colak – Illustrator
Outlander: Hails from Serbia
Tends to draw fantasy the most often, and has a more photorealistic style
Maria Santaolalla – Colorist
Outlander: Lives in France
Multitalented: Enjoys writing and has a degree in Tourism
Simon Bowland – Letterer
Test of Time: Has been lettering for comics for over 13 years!
Outlander: Lives in the UK
Dream Team: Also works on Cullen Bunn's comic, Cold Spots
Mike Marts – Editor
Name Recognition: Is the Editor-in-Chief for AfterShock comics
Recently made an appearance on Dreamer Comics Podcast, where he spoke about turning comics into a career.
Corey Breen – Book Designer
Multitalented: Has also worked as a letterer for DC Comics and BOOM! Studios
John J. Hill – Logo Designer & Book Designer
Multitalented: Also does multimedia, lettering, graphic design, photography, and illustration work.
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