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Strange Lore

Viktor Kerney – writer & creator
Antonio Brandao – artist
Terry Blas – colorist
Bruno Chiroleu – letterer

Strange Lore as the title hints at is a horror story dreamed up by Viktor Kerney and brought to four color life by Antonio Brandao first as a web comic at Tapas before then coming to print. It seemed time — past time really — to talk about Strange Lore while Viktor and a new art team are working on volume two. Kerney has a deep appreciation of the horror genre in any media so the fact that he chose to delve into the genre, specifically Southern Gothic, for his first story should not come as a surprise.  At its heart though, Strange Lore is about family and relationships which is not to say that the central themes of Southern Gothic proper (isolation and marginalization, violence, grotesqueries, decay and destitution, oppression, and sense of place) are mere window dressing.

The story opens on a young man named Brandon just as he arrives at the bus station in Marion, SC where he’s met by his paternal grandmother and Aunt Mary who together run a diner. Brandon has come to Marion, by bus no less, at his mother’s insistence. She thought a change would do good for her son after he and several friends were involved in a tragic and mysterious incident the year before. The family home looks just like his comfortable memories from a decade before. Marion itself is idyllic with woods skirting the town and playgrounds for happy children.

Outwardly things appear to be positive. Brandon has healthy interactions with his family and the closely knit group of women who work at his nana’s diner have welcomed the young man into their circle. He’s agreeable with taking over his nana’s bookkeeping after she dismisses his suggestion to use a computer. The town’s local comic shop provides a touch more continuity for Brandon. The thrill of a new crush begins after running into the laid back and handsome Jackson, a young man who has a penchant for late night nude swimming and is unapologetically open about being gay. The attraction is mutual and they start forming a relationship.

The psychological front is another matter for Brandon. Grief is not a linear process and moving to another town isn’t a guarantee for a clean start. Memories of Brandon’s friends’s deaths continue to surface. Worse, Brandon starts to have premonitions of his relatives dying in the same fashion. Adding to Brandon’s sense of inner isolation is his concern over how Jackson will react.

Jackson has his secrets too. Secrets that are fantastical and bigger than Brandon’s but also intersecting them. Jackson comes from a long line of male descendants, a dozen born in each generation, whose lineage traces back to the horned half goat god Pan, protector of the elemental wildnerness, after he successfully stole the primal essences other dieties in a decadent bid to achieve a twisted legacy. Whereas many of his Paen ancestors were powerful and influential, all Jackson wants is to lead a peaceful, quiet life. It’s a perfectly reasonable desire if it weren’t for Jackson’s brother Patrick who takes delight in torture and murder.

For all the good that both Brandon and Jackson represent individually and together as a not yet quite a couple finding strength through trusting each other, Patrick is a grotesque corruption whose desire for cruelty forever separated brotherly and familial bonds with both Jackson and their father Ken. Just as Jackson is drawn to nature, Patrick is drawn to terror. It’s Patrick who is the common element between both young men as they learn by after putting together puzzle pieces.

Patrick’s monstrous nature works on a preternatural level but monsters also exist in the mundane world as Kerney reminds us through the character of Aaron Thomas, the town’s most ignorant, loud mouthed bully who abuses his girlfriend Abby, one of the diner employees, and enjoys every opportunity to shout homophobic slurs at Jackson…and soon enough Brandon. That Aaron should fall under Patrick’s thrall when they meet seems inevitable and a match made in hell. Kerney delivers a surprise fate to Aaron that would be very much in tune with Twilight Zone character twists.

The theme of family is underscored again at the outset of the climatic fight between the brothers as they violently struggle. To Patrick’s deranged mind they must be a family again in order to implement for his audacious plan for power – a move that nearly rivals the boldness of creator Pan himself millennia ago. That Jackson nearly loses this fierce battle as does every protagonist in the classic good versus evil battle shouldn’t come as a surprise. The big payoff comes with how the writer delivers through Brandon the message of love wins out.

Strange Lore ends on a happy note generally for its supporting cast and especially for Brandon and Jackson. Look for challenges to confront the couple in future volumes!

StrangeLore may be purchased at Amazon. Kerney suggests contacting him at @StrangeLore to buy one of his remaining print copies if you prefer paper.

June 10, 2019
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