Proctor Valley Road is cuter than expected. Being Grant Morrison’s first original series since Klaus in 2015 (also with BOOM! Studios), from the legendary comic writer known for their high-concept approaches and radical deconstructions. With Proctor Valley Road based around the real San Diego Country road infamous for urban legends and supposed supernatural, the comic appears poised for lurking eldritch horrors as Janis Joplin’s “Kosmic Blues” plays over a grisly car crash in the opening pages. Yet this inaugural issue downplays any “cosmic” perspective at work, focusing instead on a group of teenage girls saving money for Janis Joplin tickets in 1970 San Diego. These plucky protagonists make Proctor Valley Road tonally more an all-ages adventure (aside from all the swearing), with certain similarities to Paper Girls.
The crew – August, Rylee, Jennie and Cora – are given their cuteness through Naomi Franquiz’s lovely linework. Franquiz has a soft roundness that is extra endearing through a slightly scruffiness, and although her characters have wide-eyed cartoonish expressions, the control of body language grounds the groups’ dynamics. Such as how Cora clings onto whomever she’s standing next to, or the arms-crossed way Jennie carries herself. Tamra Bonvillain’s colours are also warm and bright, although they are notably rustier when night-time comes. As the sun sets through the issue, the colours subtly shift to more autumnal shades.
Throughout the day, the gang brainstorm different methods of making money for Joplin tickets, like pinching sunglasses from gas stations (distracting shopkeepers, unsuccessfully, with guitar songs) or Jeannie cleaning an old lady’s lawn (which she quits following the owner’s racist comments, giving her the finger on the way out). But following a discussion with some teenage boys, August settles upon selling a “Spook Tour” of the eponymous Proctor Valley Road. “Organised religion proved one thing,” August declares, “where there are people who want to believe – there’s profit.”
But, of course, this spooky scheme goes awry given the genuine threat prowling around Proctor Valley Road. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with Proctor Valley Road’s cuteness, but perhaps its cheerful presentation points towards grimness hidden in plain sight. Not only in the demonic forces hovering around the ordinary desert road, but how the sun-kissed city of Chula Vista features simmering racial tension (against Jennie and her brother) and conscription to the Vietnam War. Even the boys humorously assume the girls’ “Spook Tour” was just a cover for them to “put out.”
So, things aren’t exactly what they seem, even if Proctor Valley Road has yet to show the distinctive mark of Morrison’s involvement. This limited series is co-written with Alex Child, based upon his original idea and being developed alongside a NBCUniversal TV adaptation. The issue may be primarily set-up, but the girls’ voices and interactions establish a solid introduction, and Proctor Valley Road also features a “black out” sequence that is genuinely effective. It’s helped by Jim Campbell’s lettering upon the black panels, and Campbell also plays around with word-balloons dripping with sarcasm or faded in the background. Despite the dark threats occurring on the periphery, Proctor Valley Road appears like a cute romp with the supernatural which, whatever direction the series turns, paves the way for the story ahead.
Grant Morrison & Alex Child (W), Naomi Franquiz (A), Tamra Bonvillain (C), Jim Campbell (L) • BOOM! Studios, $3.99
Review by Bruno Savill de Jong