Lately I have found myself devouring Gothic literature and haunted house stories, out of a love for the genre and the atmosphere, but also consistently finding myself disappointed. This particular genre is filled with so many tired tropes and common motifs, that eventually, all stories start to seem redundant, like an endless cookie cutter copying the plot from Jane Eyre and The Haunting at Hill House and other mainstays. A young woman with a traumatic past moves into a spooky old house and there are ghosts and sometimes they are evil and sometimes they help heal and sometimes there are unresolved tensions with the supernatural, you’re never sure if it’s the ghost or the trauma. There’s a mysterious brooding man about, there’s fog, there’s a downtrodden countryside in the middle of nowhere. Blah blah blah.
“Home Sick Pilots” breaks that mold in a surprising, refreshing way, splattered with ectoplasm and teenage angst. This graphic novel published by Image Comics is brought to us by writer Dan Watters and artist Caspar Wijngaard. It tells the story of the Home Sick Pilots, which was the brainchild of foster child Ami, a troubled kid who wound up in the foster system after her mother died. She feels lost, unwanted, unmoored, until she meets disaffected stoners Rip and Buzz, who have a begrudging appreciation for her love of the Ramones and bring her in their orbit. With her in the picture, their band becomes something special, the three of them against the world.
One night they go to see a lame band called the Nuclear Bastards. Then Ami gets it in her head to host a gig at the infamous Old James House, said to be so haunted that it trapped the last person who visited it and they were never seen since. That leads them down a dark and twisted path that is part redemption arc with a flavor of Stockholm Syndrome, taking the haunted house trope and morphing it into a superhero thriller with X-Files spice.
I am so tempted to give spoilers, but man, that ending is something else. It just keeps taking you down corridors you don’t expect. The lost, traumatized girl becomes a badass piloting her own destiny, but she still wants the band back together, the thread that binds her back to a reality that she thought she wanted to leave behind forever, despite reality turning its back on her.
The art was really well done, complete with an interesting technique when the scenes segued into new chapters; taking a completely black background, interspersing the absolute negative space with black-on-white thought bubbles exploring Ami’s successive psychological transformations. It had a wonderful dark, moody vibe throughout.
Loved this book so much that I already pre-ordered Volume 2, and I hardly ever continue on in a series – too many good books out there to stick with one author or creative team. But I wanted more of this universe; it sunk its spectral teeth into me and pulled me along for the ride.