DeadEndia: The Watcher's Test

illus. by Hamish Steele. 240p. Nobrow/Flying Eye. Aug. 2018. pap. $14.95. ISBN 9781910620472.
OrangeReviewStarGr 9 Up—Steele's latest combines the first eight issues of his webcomic into a rollicking tale of the after-hours happenings in a theme park. Of all the attractions in Pollywood (a riff on Dollywood), Dead End is the least popular. So, in an attempt to spruce up the place, Norma (Dead End's 21-year-old tour guide) hires Barney as a janitor. But rather than draw in more human visitors, Dead End continues to entice the likes of demons, ghosts, and time-traveling wizards. When things get a little too strange, Norma, Barney, and Pugsley (Barney's pug) step in to take care of business. But can they also juggle their burgeoning love lives? More hilarious and heartfelt than chillingly macabre, the story is mostly linear, with a few jumps through time. Each chapter reads like a cartoon episode, with connected pieces that build upon one another but can also be savored individually. Between chapters, characters are further introduced via fun (and sometimes funny) get-to-know-you pages. The characters' queerness often intersects with other diverse identities: Norma is brown-skinned (possibly South Asian, based on textual clues), Badyah wears hijabs, and Barney is trans. Steele's gorgeous art relies on a rich, vibrant palette and exaggerated character design to create a memorable world that begs to be explored.
VERDICT Hand this excellent work to readers eagerly awaiting the next installments of "Lumberjanes" and "The Backstagers."

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