By Zack Quaintance — I was a late-comer to Ice Cream Man. I had a few reasons for hesitating, among them: there are tons of comics these days, the word-of-mouth for the first issue was mixed, and I was unfamiliar with the creators. I, however, absolutely loved the first volume, and Ice Cream Man #6 is now one of my favorite single issues this year.
Even so, I wouldn’t say I’ve figured out what this comic is about. Not entirely. It’s essentially a horror anthology, one in which we haven’t seen the same character twice, other than the titular creepy ice cream man, whose role in stories varies, both in terms of why he’s there and how much we see him. Ice Cream Man #6, which I loved so well, strongly hinted this was a book about nihilism, but, even then, that felt a bit reductive to me. I don’t find nihilism interesting, at least not as the driving force of a story, and yet this book had captured and kept my interest. More than that, it had me recommending it regularly to friends, the highest endorsement.
In Ice Cream Man #8, we finally have some strong clues as to what this book aspires to be about. This is a comic that strives to convey the power of perspective, operating as it does from a starting point that presumes a bleak world before arguing that the central conflict of human life is to overcome bleakness to obtain joy and beauty, regardless of how difficult doing so may be. Just look at this issue.
Like the other installments in this series, the art is fantastic, drawn by Martin Morazzo in a style evocative of greats like Frank Quitely, Geof Darrow, other masters of wavy detail. Morazzo’s work on Ice Cream Man has real range and this issue is no exception. He expertly renders the story’s central characters—paramedics abusing medication and undergoing a hallucinatory crisis—as they careen through a sleepy suburban town erupting in barely-noticed chaos, with homes on fire, people covered in worms, and a clown with a gunshot to his temple. As this story progresses, so does the chaos, culminating in anthropomorphic insect designs in a well-lit diner. It’s stunning stuff.
W. Maxwell Prince, meanwhile, compliments these visuals well with dialogue and narration. Talk between the paramedics is conversational, funny and authentic, yet steeped in existential panic and questions about what it’s all about (both life and this comic), as well as about human nature. The narration, however, is the real star, well-written, powerful, concise, featuring prickly lines like: We’ll all connected—through death, through suffering. Through our fleeting, ephemeral moments of joy; as well as a guiding motif about dark voices (which I read as thoughts, be they fear, anger, or mundanity). The key bit of writing, the one I believe speaks to Prince and Morazzo’s goals for this book, comes at the end, when the gruesome facade relents for a moment and the narrator tells us: The real song’s hard to hear—because good things take work.
This would, perhaps, be an obvious point to make in a first issue, but after eight chapters of violence, body horror, despair, and dark Twilight Zone-esque concepts, it rings true and cathartic. This isn’t a book that believes we’re doomed. No. This comic is built on the idea that a well-lived life requires effort, hard work, and deliberate hope. I’m still learning like anyone, but these are ideas I find inspiring.
Overall: Another excellent chapter in this anthology horror story, one that goes deeper into the abstruse philosophies hinted at by prior issues. Simply put, few books on the stands today match the craftsmanship and dogma in a single issue of Ice Cream Man. 9.5/10
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.