Last Call Vol. 1

By Vasilis Lolos
136 pages, black and white
Published by Oni Press

Launching a brand-new series requires walking a fine line between plunging the reader directly into the action, and with trying to provide needed background and a feel for the setting. With Vasilis Lolos’s Last Call, the graphic novel format is in some ways both a blessing and a hindrance for that line, but ultimately I think he’s able to keep a sense of balance present.

Sam and Alec are out in the car, listening to a mix tape, and generally trying to escape the boredom of their every day lives. Unfortunately for them, escape is exactly what was on their agenda, even if they didn’t realize it. Suddenly trapped on board the mysterious Imperial Express, a train full of strange people and creatures, things are rapidly shifting from bad to worse. How can you escape from a train that you don’t even know how you came on board?

If Last Call had been a series of 32-page comics, you can almost see exactly how the issue would have progressed. In a matter of three or four pages, Sam and Alec would be on board the Imperial Express, and within ten pages the conflict would already be in full force. With 136 pages to play with, though, Lolos has more room to introduce his characters and the strange ghostly train that Last Call is set upon. The end result is a much slower, more methodical start to the series, but one that also feels much more rewarding in terms of getting an idea exactly what we’re in store for. Lolos uses the extra space to evoke a strong mood around Last Call, a strange combination of disorientation, fear, and perpetual anticipation. Things are always just lurking around the corner, waiting to reveal themselves in disturbing and unsettling ways. By the time the first volume of Last Call was over, I found myself a little surprised by how it managed to feel like both nothing and also a lot had happened at the same time. Looking back through the book, a lot of characters and places are introduced, distinct changes have happened to both Sam and Alec, and mysteries are starting to unfold. Ultimately, though, I felt like I’d just read 25% of a novel, and things were just now starting to truly happen. It’s a strange mixture of reactions to be evoked by Last Call, perhaps because it leaves the reader wanting more but because of its longer page count, things are unfolding at a different pace than you might want.

The art in Last Call goes a long way towards creating its mood and atmosphere. While I was familiar with Lolos’s art in Pirates of Coney Island, it’s in Last Call that things really stood out for me. I think in part it’s because of the black and white format that it works so well for me; it provides a understated, subtle sort of look for the entire series. Without bright colors popping off the page, it allows the slightly off-kilter and odd-looking creatures to visually sneak up on the reader, their oddities coming out of nowhere to surprise and shock. As much as I love how Lolos draws his characters, with such wonderful expressions on their faces and with nice tricks like Mr. S’s posture moving in sync with his host, it’s how he draws the setting of the train that really grabs my attention, though. Its larger-than-life, bigger-on-the-inside environs are old-world opulent, and it gives you a feeling of being somewhere out of its normal place and time. From its heavy curtains and tableclothed tables to the sculpted face looking out on the front of the engine, the train of Last Call is as much a joy to look at for the reader as it causes terror to Sam.

Because of the graphic novel format of the series, I suspect it will be a little while until we see a second installment. It’s much to the credit of Lolos, then, that he’s provided something memorable enough that I’ll still be interested when that second volume hits stores. While it’s currently projected to run three volumes, there’s enough interesting things being introduced by Lolos that I can see the potential for lots of Last Call down the line. It also means that with a second volume being the middle installment, things should no doubt quicken a great deal as more mysteries are revealed to the reader. Here’s hoping that’s exactly what we get—both in terms of pace and the potential for many more Last Call stories. The two of those would definitely hit the spot for me.

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