Penny Nichols – Review

From one kind of horror to another, the latest comic from IDW and Top Shelf Productions sees one woman’s journey from slumming to slaughtering (of a sort), and finding herself on the way there.

From scribes MK Reed and Greg Means comes Penny Nichols, a fantastically-constructed graphic novel about how the expression of the creative process can save your life, even through unconventional means.

Penny Nichols follows the life of the titular heroine, a struggling twentysomething whose life revolves around horrible temping jobs, babysitting for her rambunctious nieces, awkward dates, patronising family members, and living in an apartment with her prickly roommate. Fortunately, things take a turn for the better when Penny, working at a wellness expo, is approached by a pair of amateur horror movie makers (from the gloriously titled ‘Satan’s Fingers Productions’) and soon finds herself involved in the production of ‘Blood Wedding’, a grisly giallo-style production about a homicidal bride on her wedding day that makes Midsommar look restrained.

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From the get-go, Penny Nichols is a very funny  world to become involved in, filled with punchy, sparkling dialogue that evokes John Allison’s immaculate ‘Giant Days’ series, and which fleshes out its players into realised, entirely human people. The pain and euphoria and chaos that comes with creating a film – or any creative work – is imbued throughout the comic, itself a clear labour of love. Penny herself journeys from a place of apathy into sincerity, finding her place in the filmmaking world and with the new family she finds in the ramshackle crew. Imagine it as if Fleabag found an affinity for making slasher movies.

The comedy deserves its own specific praise – from the aforementioned snarky one-liners deployed by Penny and co., the comic playfully mocks modern influencer culture (Penny’s sister sells green juice and laments her sister’s choices), and cheesy horror movies (‘Blood Wedding’ is filled with cringe-inducing murder puns). Best of all is the physical comedy it employs – flaky director Sam’s wonderful wife Angela steals a hospital wheelchair as revenge (and for the film) while heavily pregnant, while the sweet grandmother of a crew member becomes a crash test dummy for blood squibs that she then uses to water her plants.

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The art style for Penny Nichols from artist Matt Weigle is simplistic and spartan, but this adds to its charm, rather than detracting from it. Painting this world in a monochrome palette evokes classic horror productions and lends some classiness to the chaos of the production; the geysers of fake blood are greyscaled, the bright fluorescence of hospital floodlights heightened, the deep darkness of late-night liaisons emphasised.

If Penny Nichols were ever adapted into a film, it would surely be an indie darling – the story of a disaffected young woman who finds her calling in the theatrical arts, becoming the glue that holds a production together and finding an outlet for her long-repressed creative desires. As it stands, Penny Nichols is buoyant and brilliant and proves that even if you’re the only person you’re creating something for, it can in itself be a dazzling transformation.

Penny Nichols is out now in digital and paperback.

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