Written by Sam Kieth
Art by Sam Kieth with Alex Pardee
32 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press
Sam Kieth is probably best known for his comic The Maxx (or perhaps being the penciler for the first five issues of The Sandman), but he’s done his share of other comic books in recent days. Books like Zero Girl, Four Women, and Scratch are just a few of his recent projects—but out of all of his books in the past couple of years, I think my favorite based just on the first issue has got to be Ojo.
Annie feels like she’s cursed. Maybe it’s guilt over her mother’s death during her birth. Or maybe it’s that every time she gets a pet, it also dies. It certainly doesn’t help that Annie and her sister Lorna are constantly clashing. Their father tries to keep the peace as best he can while telling Annie about her mother’s life, but there’s only so much he can do. Then Annie finds a new pet, Ojo. He’s a strange tentacled little creature, lurking between two boards with his one big eye gleaming at Annie. But what exactly is Ojo? And more importantly, what the heck does an adult Ojo look like? There’s a good chance it’s an answer Annie’s not going to like.
Kieth has a nice balance between the two different parts of Ojo, and it’s those two pieces working together that makes it such a strong story. Part of Ojo is about the strange little creature that Annie’s found, of course, and the mystery of what exactly Ojo and its species are. That alone is interesting, with Ojo’s strange likes and dislikes, as well as Annie’s encounter at the end of the first issue that shows just what Ojo may become. Kieth’s work on The Maxx and Zero Girl certainly showed that Kieth can do strange, and strange is what little Ojo certainly qualifies under. The other part of Ojo, though, is about the emotional relationship that Annie has with her family. She’s got a lot of horrible guilt running through her head, crushing her spirit as she takes every death around her as something that she must have caused. With her inability to talk about her late mother with her father, to say nothing of the clear antagonism Lorna has towards Annie over their mother’s death, there’s a lot that needs to be resolved between this family, and Kieth makes them intriguing enough that you want to see if that really can happen. Most importantly, though, Annie’s family issues tie in perfectly to the mystery of Ojo. They help keep her blinded to the reality that there’s something very odd about this creature, and as a result lets the story progress without any red flags being raised in the reader’s mind.
I love how Kieth shifts his art style from page to page to match his writing. He and Alex Pardee do a marvelous job of making the story and art work together as a cohesive whole, from portraits of Annie warily looking at Ojo in a rich, textured style to a cartoonish child’s scrawl for a flashback from Annie’s perspective of one of her ill-fated pets. At his most realistic side of the spectrum, Kieth draws Annie’s stone-faced expression perfectly as her father tries to reach out to her; looking at pages like this just reminds me why Kieth is a master of his craft. Keith’s storytelling is fantastic here, stacking panels together on every page to maximize the reader’s eye flowing across the art, while at the same time always making sure that each page’s structure is a design in its own right. Last but not least, his design of Ojo’s species is wonderful, a strange mix of familiar and strange that both intrigues and repulses at the same time. It’s a great look for the titular character of Ojo and it’s not something that you’ll forget easily.
Ojo is easily Kieth’s best book in years. The writing and the art come together perfectly and reading the first chapter, I’m desperate to find out what happens next. Kieth, Pardee, and Oni Press don’t just have a good comic with Ojo, they’ve got a great comic. If this book doesn’t get everyone talking about Kieth again, I don’t know what will. Well done by all involved.