Thee Comics Column #23 – Gary Spencer Millidge’s Strangehaven

image courtesy of wikipedia.org

I remember reading about Strangehaven back in the mid-nineties. Probably in Wrapped In Plastic magazine, as it very easily would have/will appeal to fans of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s landmark television series Twin Peaks. Somehow, despite my rabid Twin Peaks obsession I never managed to pick up even a single copy of Strangehaven. If I had – picked up even a single copy that is – I would  have read the series start to finish as I’m planning to do now after stumbling ass-backwards into a copy of the first trade, “Arcadia”.

Drawing from influences as varied as Thomas Gregor’s Mehinaku: The Dream of Daily Life in a Brazilian Indian Village, Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn, A Complete Course in Practical Ceremonial Magic and Darlene Campbell’s The Proper Care of Rabbits, Strangehaven is the story of Alex Hunter, a man who, while driving through the English countryside, runs a woman over. Or at least he believes he runs a woman over. In ghostly fashion she appears before the car at the last minute and in trying to avoid her Alex sends the vehicle careening off the road. When he wakes up he is in a small medical facility in a village he has never heard of before. That village is Strangehaven. As Alex works himself back out of a concussion and waits for a local mechanic to fix his auto he befriends the doctor’s attractive young nurse Janey Jones. Janey begins to show Alex around the town, the two bond quickly and soon she is suggesting he move to Strangehaven.  Alex is definitely interested in doing so – he’s recently divorced and looking for a new teaching job and between Janey and the opening she insists is all but waiting for him at the local elementary school he has an answer to both of those conundrums right there. But hold on – Alex was merely driving through when all of this landed in his lap. He has a life back home to tidy up and other considerations  to make before making such a life-changing decision.

Only that doesn’t happen.

Alex seems somewhat spellbound – by the end of the first issue he tries to leave, follows the simple driving directions and ends up directly back at the crossroads entrance to Strangehaven. What’s more ,after that attempt he just seems to go with it. He moves into a B&B and takes on the job at the school.

Now, having only read this first book thus far (ordering more here very soon!) not everything has come together, and there is A LOT going on in this town. Here again the Twin Peaks comparison is on-point, as everyone in Strangehaven is either hiding something or strange in a way that will make you turn those pages with wonderment. There’s the long-haired dude with the sunglasses who tells everyone that he’s an alien and has x-ray vision (and appears to be and have just that!). There’s Meg who claims to have been born and raised as a medicine man for an Amazonian tribe. He begins a Don Juan-like relationship with Janey’s brother Jeremy, teaching him the ways of the Shaman. They even spend some time flying the skies over Strangehaven in the forms of birds! And there’s the old woman with the house full of talking pets.

Yes, talking pets. Is just she seeing and hearing them? I don’t know, but they’re possessed of information pets wouldn’t normally have.

Oh, and then there’s the Knights of the Golden Light, a Masonic-like brotherhood that operates in secret and appear willing to kill their members for ceremony and be able to bring said members back to life. All this while gathering information about everyone, including our hero Alex who they keep a watchful eye upon without his knowing…

The thing that excites me about Strangehaven is the possibilities. With a cast of characters as big as this (I didn’t go over even half above) wrapped around so intriguing a set-up as Alex’s situation we have a very fertile setting for some deep intrigue and metaphysical derring-do. And about Alex, just what exactly is his situation? Well, A) where and who is the woman he hit with his car or, if she’s not real, why does she keep lurking throughout the story, popping up at one point in one resident’s… well, it’s either a seven-foot tall fish tank set into the wall or a four-dimensional painting, I’m not quite sure yet. Oh, and B) why is Alex seemingly not aware some influence is working on him, blocking out his old life? Someone from that old life is going to have to wonder where he’s been off to before long.

Strangehaven is a labor of love for Millidge, who does everything from the writing and art to the publishing of the book and who is also responsible for the award-winning (rightly so) Alan Moore: Portrait of an Extraordinary Gentlemen. In my researching the series I learned that although the most recent issue to have come out was 2005’s #18 Mr. Millidge considers the project very much alive. As I said above Millidge does all of the work on the book himself, and he self-publishes it through his imprint Abiogenesis Press. Although still currently on hiatus Mr. Millidge plans to reach some closure with the book by issue #24, so that’s another trade paperback’s worth of issues to go! And best of all, right now this gives me time to catch-up. Having already read the first trade, I can tell you this is the kind of book that will give the reader more and more with multiple readings, which I of course plan to do.

……………

Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

 

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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