Back in 2018, online comics sensation Branson Reese won our Broken Frontier Best Webcomic Award for Swan Boy. Hell Was Full is the first print collection of Reese’s work and comes to us via Oni Press whose output, especially since the merger with Lion Forge, has been nothing if not eclectic in recent years. The meme-influencer, Cartoon Network’s We Bare Bears-contributor and comedian has built up a significant audience for his irreverent style of humour on Instagram. And if these reviews of Hell Was Full (on a certain online retailing concern whose name we don’t like to mention here at BF) are anything to go by then Reese’s approach to his subject matter seems to have influenced his readers too.
Had my dad read some of it. All he said was “that’s just wrong.”
He should probably be imprisoned, but in a positive way.
My salvation is in jeopardy, but it was worth it.
The world of Hell Was Full is a deliciously naughty one. Each one-page strip varies in length but is never more than a few panels long. They often build up to… let’s say comic denouements rather than punchlines… that blindside you with their bizarre unpredictability. A Reese-eye perspective on the world that comes from a gloriously skewed vantage point. In these pages we observe and consider such off-centre oddities as theological thoughts on what awaits the characters in The Nightmare Before Christmas in Good-Friday Town; the day the sun finally dies and its skeleton hangs ominously in the firmament; a car thief who steals the disguised form of a dead Transformer from its funeral; and how Medusa the Gorgon interacts with the online world.
Some of it is violently slapstick (ballet dancers in an industrial fan factory), some of it bitingly satirical (an M&Ms/Of Mice and Men crossover) and some of it just plain disturbingly weird (watch out for the penis-cleaning police). There are a multitude of ingenious and imaginative takes on scatological humour in these pages too. Perhaps ironically, Reese’s crudest humour is in some ways often his most sophisticated, especially in terms of the relentless stream of unlikely yet remarkably clever variations on the knob joke that pepper these pages. Whichever muse is responsible for inspiring willy gags clearly has a particular fondness for the self-proclaimed “illegally handsome” cartoonist.
Each cartoon strip comes with an often meta, self-referential commentary at the bottom of the page adding extra layers of mirthful misbehaviour to the proceedings. Hell Was Full’s appeal is not simply in Reese’s darkly imaginative set-ups but in the wild unpredictability of his mini-narratives. In these ever troubling times Branson Reese’s mischievously nihilistic cartooning has a strangely comforting allure.
Branson Reese (W/A) • Oni Press, $24.99
Review by Andy Oliver