A Friendly Game

Story and pencils by Joe Pimienta
Script and inks by Lindsay Hornsby
200 pages, black and white
Published by SLG Publishing

What is about stories involving mentally deranged children? It’s a strange little niche market that exists in horror stories of all shapes and sizes, where the innocent looking kid turns out to be a stone-cold killer, going after babysitters, family pets, or (inevitably in this sort of story) parents. It’s that particular niche that Joe Pimienta and Lindsay Hornsby mine for their graphic novel A Friendly Game, but even at 200 pages, what we get is such an accelerated descent into madness that this book is hard to swallow on multiple levels.

When Pimienta and Hornsby begin the book, it’s at its most believable. Todd and Kevin are bored with their existing games, and so curiosity involving the bodies of mice in traps turns into an exploration of the little furry corpses. But then Todd almost instantly becomes obsessed with killing animals, and in a matter of pages it escalates from puppies to people, and Kevin is the hapless friend who can’t figure out how to get out of a bad situation.

The problem is, A Friendly Game preys on stereotypes of mental illness and derangement by racing through the progression of a killer in the form of Todd. Aside from that initial jump of time between killing the first mouse to Todd wanting to kill a stray puppy, everything happens at such a rapid-fire progression that it’s hard to swallow these leaps of depravity. Can’t kill a dog? Why not some friends or a family member? How about other people’s family? And so on, and so on. Considering we get a whole six pages of Todd being a relatively normal child before he wants to kill still-living things, it’s easy to see why he’s the weak point in this book. He’s utterly unbelievable as a villain or more importantly as an actual person; he might as well be a monster from a supernatural horror story instead, rising up from the depths of the lake to chop off a dog’s tail. Why does Todd do things? Because he’s evil, it seems. And of course, what better way to show evil than to have him mutilating puppies? I’d say that he’s laughable except that Pimienta and Hornsby seem determined to make him revolting; it’s hard to keep from getting turned off by this book’s attempts at emotional manipulation.

At least with Kevin we get an actual emotion or two, although it’s usually scared. He’s the screaming co-ed of the Friday the 13th movies in young boy form, stumbling from one bad moment to the next but unable to act until that final, climactic moment to wrap everything up. It doesn’t make him an interesting character, though, but one to get slightly annoyed at. When Todd’s actions escalate from rodents to people, it’s hard to believe that Kevin (even as written) doesn’t turn around and tell his mother what’s going on. His silence seems present only because the book would end prematurely, not because he’d be able to keep his mouth shut.

The sole bright spot in this book is that Pimienta and Hornsby are talented artists, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them work together off of someone else’s script down the line. Pimienta’s pencils draw characters with cute rounded heads and mops of hair, and Todd’s monstrous expressions are pulled off in no small part because of that evil gleam in his eyes. But in terms of writing, I hope any future projects take a less stereotypical approach. It’s been a while since I felt slightly disgusted by a book, but A Friendly Game managed to evoke that emotion. There are enough D-grade horror movies of this variety that comic books don’t need to follow suit.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

1 comment to A Friendly Game

  • Lee

    Sorry, Greg, but I just can’t agree with your review on this one. I would argue that one of the strengths of the book is it’s accelerated descent into madness. Pimienta and Hornsby have very little time, and few pages, to sell the story. That limitation alone almost demands an accelerated pace.

    But beyond that, it’s obvious from the start the story isn’t going for deep and meaningful. Not that horror fiction is a genre full of deep and meaningful to start with, but once I am aware a book is going for shock value, let’s just get to the shock and be done with it. Todd and Kevin were little more than stereotypical good guy and evil guy. I had nothing invested in them as characters so all I was looking for was how fast could we descend into madness and how deep was the valley? I think your comparisons to Friday the 13th, Halloween, and other slasher films is spot on. Those movies, and this book, aren’t about the characters. They are all about how can I surprise and shock you next. Read from that perspective, the book easily achieves it’s goal.

    I think calling it a D Grade movie is a little harsh, C Grade sure, D Grade no. If you liked movies like Pumkinhead, Jeepers Creepers, and the aforementioned slasher flicks then more than likely you will enjoy this book. The book isn’t a classic that is going to stay on my shelf forever, but it was a great way to kill some time on a lazy afternoon.