Dead Dudes written by Christopher Sebela, illustrated by Ben Sears, colored by Ryan Hill and Warren Wucinich, lettered by Crank!
Oni Press (September 2020)
126 pages; $19.99 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Trev, Kent, and Brian, collectively known as Ghostbros, are three struggling television paranormal investigators. Their show is about to be cancelled due to low ratings. Their competitors, Parawarriors, are stealing their audience with their new gadgets and their ability to not just investigate ghosts, but actually fight them. To save their show, Trev forces Kent and Brian to go to the most haunted place he can imagine: Edgeway Penitentiary in rural Montana. The team gets there and, within hours, discover that not only are ghosts real, but they are willing to kill. That’s when the problems really being in the young adult graphic novel, Dead Dudes.
Young adult fiction, especially graphic fiction, is difficult to pull off. On one hand, the author and artists don’t want the work to come across as childish or too immature; on the other hand, they don’t want it to be too graphic or scary to terrify their audience. Dead Dudes finds the perfect balance between these two. There are some scenes of suspense, and some scenes with blood and guts, but most of the visceral body stuff is implied. Also, the art style is deliberately more cartoonish, so while characters do get their heads chopped off or their bodies impaled by planks of wood, it’s drawn in a silly way that wouldn’t offend or shock most YA readers.
YA fiction also works when adults can share in the fun, and Dead Dudes certainly does that. As much as it’s a thrilling ghost story about ghost hunters for young adults, it’s also a brilliant parody for mature adults. Gimmicks like the swear words all replaced by “BLEEP” in bright red lettering or the deliberate use of “dude” and “bro,” harkening to shows like Ghost Adventures, might go over the heads of YA audiences, but will certainly entertain adult readers, who will love to share this graphic novel with their kids.
The plot is quite interesting, and takes ghost hunting into a unique area: what if ghost hunters actually became ghosts themselves? It also examines the morality and the spectacle behind paranormal shows, and even dabbles into some of the exploitive aspects of those shows. If someone is a true believer, absolutely convinced that ghosts are real and can make contact with this plane of existence, how are those who exploit those beliefs or use gimmicks and trickery to create those effects to be treated? This is a debate that goes back to Victorian mediums, if not earlier, but it’s very cleverly addressed and explored in Dead Dudes. However, it’s not treated too heavily as to make the story boring, and the adventure and threats in the prison will entertain readers thoroughly.
Overall, Dead Dudes is a very clever YA graphic novel that will get young readers interested in horror, but also serve to entertain adult readers as well.