The House of Daemon was originally printed in Eagle in 1982 – 83. I was an impressionable ten year old then, and a subscriber to Eagle. The House of Daemon (THoD) left an indelible impression on me. However, this is the first opportunity I’ve had in the last thirty years to re-read it, and remember why.
Hibernia worked hard for us to come up with the re-printing rights. Also, they’ve worked incredibly hard to get the printing just right. I’ll explain why in a moment. I will say that they kindly emailed me a PDF preview copy for review purposes, but in this instance I absolutely had to have a copy in my hands. I was more than happy to pay the £9 (or £12 inc p&p) for their absolutely beautiful, gorgeously bound reprint.
Ok, so let’s talk about why this is such a fantastic reprint. First up is the writing. John Wagner and Alan Grant. Need I say more? Probably not, but I’m going to anyway. Their writing is superb. It has more ideas packed into one page than you’re likely to see in a whole comic these days. However, for all their exuberance, the pacing is not lost.
They begin with several episodes of suspense building, and character introduction. From the moment the happy couple enter their brand new custom-built home, things start to go a bit wrong, but only on a general kind of poltergeist type-level; creepy feelings, drops in temperature, blood from the taps etc. However, it soon escalates, and both Elliot and his wife Cassandra are physically attached by bizarre entities.
We’re soon introduced to their builder, Fenwick, and also a paranormal investigator, Dr Cormack, who is accompanied by his students Dave and Ronda. Later on two coppers join them in their nightmare too. The characters are writ large, but work for that – Elliott is protective and cynical, his wife sensitive to the paranormal activity. Dr Cormack is used to small scale psychic activity, and soon out of his depth. His students are headstrong, rushing into trouble, and Fenwick spends most of his time in a daze not believing what he’s seeing.
These characters are a perfect foil, as the belligerent and cruel entity Daemon flings them into a series of horrendous worlds, seemingly without end, but all contained within the house itself. As with the Thirteenth Floor, written some time after this I believe, Wagner and Grant seem to take great delight in thinking up horrors for these folk to survive. The characters are occasionally flung back to the house itself, which Daemon has made their prison, and taunted before being subjected to another nightmarish psychic projection.
They pace the story well. After the preamble and character introduction they up the ante, throwing exciting action packed scenes at us, with brief lulls in between for the characters to grow. Or die, as the case may be.
Also, Wagner and Grant show off their trademark humour, and sly winks to popular culture here too.
It’s at this point I turn to Jose Ortiz, the artist for this entire publication. It’s hard to put into words just how incredible he was as an artist. Sadly he died in 2013, but I am so glad he left such an incredible legacy, particularly this reprint, which showcases the master at work.
Nothing Wagner and Grant threw at him fazed him in the slightest. Grinning imps? No problem. Lethal whirlpools in boiling seas? Sure buddy! Orcish Nazis in floating tanks? Yeah, whatever – bring it on! As well as this, it was Ortiz who left me with one particular scene burned across my cerebellum, making me forever wary of the beach, and marking him in my mind as an artist without compare. It was this one:
I won’t spoil it by showing any more panels from this particular vignette, but this sequence freaked me right out as a child. I’ve been wanting to revisit this for decades. Just this one panel is so well drawn – the protagonist in the foreground, Dave, clearly in great danger, surrounded by these horrible childlike imps, who are intent on nothing more than suffocating him under the sand. His rescuer, Elliott, has hit similar trouble, and their demise seems inevitable. Look at their expressions, the contortions of their body, and the various gestures and grimaces of the evil devil-children things. Just wow.
Ortiz is clearly as comfortable drawing humans in myriad shapes , sizes and expressions, with such character, as he is the awful denizens of Daemon’s torturous hellhole. There is a great party scene where everyone seems to be relaxing and enjoying a pint or two.
This is a lovely contrast to the true nature of the beings in this world.
To think, these are just two panels from pages usually nine panels or more. For Ortiz to cram in such inventiveness, depth, detail and character in every single panel is nothing short of miraculous.
On reading this again, and again (I’ve re-read it three times now) there’s all sorts of equally horrible stuff going on as the scenes above. I’m never going rafting again, that’s for sure. Ortiz handles it all with aplomb, finding new and interesting ways to convey the horridness at each page turn. Where the art really differs from it’s predecessor, The Tower King, and what was to come, The Thirteenth Floor, is that Ortiz moves away from the glorious cross-hatching of these other titles, and instead works with sublime grey and black watercolours.
There’s still a bit of his lovely cross-hatching to admire, but he keeps that low-key, in favour of showing off his mastery of light and dark with the brush instead. When I was emailed the preview copy I felt a little disappointed, as the contrast seemed a little off – it was all too light. There wasn’t a true black that I could see. In fact, the pictures in this review are from that preview copy.
I was very pleased then to find the actual hardcopy does not share this problem at all – far from it! The blacks are most definitely black, and even the most subtle of grey variations are eminently visible. I’ve taken another picture just to reassure, and show you what I mean:
The paper isn’t that blue – I just took this at dusk under a very blue sky. I can assure you the paper is white and of a lovely glossy quality.
I wanted to reassure you that you’d get all of Ortiz’s artwork in a very nice package indeed. I’m not going to show you any more panels, as I’ll spoil this for you. Wagner and Grant wrap it up in a very satisfactory manner, and even in the final throes of the story Jose Ortiz does not let up with the madcap artwork. It truly is stunning.
I’d been haranguing Hibernia for The House of Daemon for so long, and I am so glad it is finally here. I urge you all to get a copy, to not only enjoy Wagner and Grant’s script writing, but also to pore over Jose Ortiz at the absolute top of his game. Asides from all that, it is just a cracking yarn, with so many ghastly moments you can’t help but understand why I was so keen to reread it, despite what it did to my ten year old self back in the eighties.
Congrats Hibernia – this is a total success. Thank you very much for your persistence in gaining the rights to reprint this, and for the absolutely sterling quality. I’m so glad you’ve given everyone another opportunity to enjoy this classic.
Go here to get your copy folks!