Columbo meets the Wicker Man in a Cornish murder mystery – Hedrek’s a brilliant folk horror comic that you don’t want to miss out on.
Now, having said that, I was one of the ones who missed out on Hedrek by Laurence Alison and David Hitchcock. Or rather, I’m way, way late with telling you about Hedrek. It’s sat there in the huge virtual pile of good-looking books to review. What can I say – sometimes I actually need some of that sleep stuff.
So, when I saw the Hendrek: Broken Pieces Kickstarter, the one that covers events in between what’s happening in this Night of the Mummers four-issue series, I figured I should really crack open the comics, if only to give me (and you) more of an idea of what you should be backing with Broken Pieces.
And damn, am I glad I did, as Hedrek’s a fine, fine piece of storytelling. One of the best Brit comics I’ve read this year. Here you go, Hedrek #1, page 1… perfect to drop you right into the vibe of the comic…
As Alison mentions in his intro, it’s all the vibe of Midsommar, Inside No. 9, The Prisoner, Worzel Gummidge, Tales of the Unexpected, Wicker Man, Columbo, and Batman. But we’ll go with the shorthand of Columbo meets The Wicker Man that they use on the Kickstarter – that’s the perfect imagery and tone planted in your head right there.
So, it’s Detective Chief Inspector Hedrek Stern, a damn good copper, the outsider detective, eccentric, that sort of thing. But this is no straight police procedural, this is something much darker, much much darker.
He’s in the middle of a string of gruesome mummer-related murder cases – mummers being the sort of folks you see in certain British country towns, the sort who celebrate Paganism and folk tales perhaps a little too hard, a little too seriously. They dress up and mask up, some just with plain and simple masks, others way more decorative and ornate. Most of the time it’s about as threatening as Morris Dancing… most of the time. But there’s a certain weird creepiness to it.
And it’s in that weird creepiness that Laurence and Alison have set Night of the Mummers. Although his fellow coppers are referring to it as “just low level pranks really,” it doesn’t take too long to live up to Hendrek’s reading of it as, “Summit odd is going on ‘ere. And it’s ‘appening up ‘n’ down the length of the country. And the higher ups knows it too.”
[Oh, one thing before I go on, just an aside on the dialect and the phrasing. Hedrek’s set in Cornwall, the furthest westerly county in England and a magnet for the strange and unusual. It’s also got a particularly distinctive accent. And Laurence chooses to have Hedrek speak with a Cornish dialect and have the comic lettered as such. Hence the, “summit,’ ‘ere,’ ‘appening up ‘n’ down,” etc. Personally, I’ve always found it just that little grating when I’m reading. But that’s just me. Thankfully the tone, the story, and pretty much everything here made it oh so easy to put that little quibble aside and just enjoy what’s a damn good book.]
Okay, back to what’s ‘appening… Hedrek’s investigations have uncovered a web of Mummer-related things, a lot of them involving nuisance, often mixed with psychedelics, with some of them involved being pretty high up the political chain, at least here in Cornwall. And now the Mummer stuffs crossed over with a murder of a property developer who’s pissed off the wrong environmentalist, ex-Special Forces who talks about, “The Green Man coming to reclaim the land and punish the wicked.”
Hedrek has been joining the dots though, the aspect of Momus, God of satire and mockery, a jester, keeps turning up, whether it’s a suicidal puppeteer going after people attacking kids, mummers outing suspected paedophiles, a Father Christmas taking on gangsters in London… all of it possibly connected but there’s no clear idea how or why yet.
And then there’s DC Sian O’Keefe, Hedrek’s colleague working the mummer cases – within the first few pages it turns out she’s not playing for the right team…
No, that’s not what she should be doing at all. Not one bit of it.
Especially not when this is Cain…
Anyway, we’ve got child abuse, witness intimidation, stabbings, murders, and a veil of silence coming down. Because all of Hedrek’s investigations, all of the mummer-related stuff runs into a wall. All of it has those three little letters stamped on the reports… N.F.A., No further action.
And that’s just about half of issue 1 there. That’s about all you should need to hook you in. It certainly did for me. As for the rest of issue 1 and into issue 2, we have Hedrek confronting Sian, a sudden escalation of events that lead a drugged Hedrek into serious danger, and a confrontation with Cain. And once that’s all resolved Hedrek finds himself in nightmarish territory, pulling on strands of the investigation that others want left well alone and one that’s been infiltrated from the very beginning.
Plus, weirdness, creepiness, and a splash of just chills down the back horror…
Frankly, I’m two issues into Hedrek and I’m loving it. I do enjoy a good cop procedural (I’ve already told you of my love for Roger Gibson and Vince Danks‘ Harker) but this has layer upon layer of extra intrigue and depth that really takes it up to absolute brilliance.
The simple set-up of a by-the-book copper getting involved in these folk horror goings on is such a deliciously good and deceptive hook (again, that Columbo meets The Wicker Man tagline is perfect) that I was predisposed to enjoy this one. But of course, a hook only gets you so far. After that, the story and the art have got to be good enough to make it live up to the hook. And that’s exactly what Alison and Hitchcock have done here in these first two issues. It’s above and beyond anything I was expecting, a complex and involving read, lots of threads of the investigation unfolding in front of you and one that requires the reader to concentrate and follow, enmeshed in Hedrek’s case almost as much as he is. But you can’t help following it because Alison’s storyline sinks its teeth into you and just will not let go.
And of course, so much of the credit for making it read so well belongs to Hitchcock’s artwork. He’s an artist I’ve known of for many years now and his style has always been eminently suited for darkness and for these essential chills. His black-and-white art is always packed with fine detail yet it never ditches a looseness, a little ethereal, a lot nasty, that makes it organic, readable, flowing artwork that elevates Hedrek in ways other artists just wouldn’t be able to do.
It’s not that everything here is horrific, just that Hitchcock draws it in such a way that the spectre of something bad is always lingering in the air. It doesn’t matter whether it’s just a scene of Hedrek and his colleagues or something nightmarish. Hitchcock’s art is just perfect for this – the interrogation scenes and the drugged scenes are a particular highlight in the nightmarish stakes… just like these two incredible scenes…
Hedrek really is a great book, all the sweeter for how unexpected it was. It’s one of those books that comes at you from nowhere and then you find yourself championing it to all and sundry, becoming evangelical about it.
And yes, it really is all that good. It nails the cop procedural bit, definitely gets everything right with setting up a terrifying atmosphere, and perfectly skates that Columbo/The Wicker Man borderland that you didn’t know would just be so essential to your reading.
With the two issues so far, I’m pretty confident Hedrek’s going to be hitting my best-of-year lists (and no, it doesn’t matter that neither issue came out in 2023, they’re my choices and my rules dammit.) There’s also the Kickstarter for Broken Pieces to be looking forward to – yes, it’s without Hitchcock’s artwork but it is a standalone thing, four short tales tying into the storyline.
Frankly, this is everything I love about comics, that sense of finding something unusual, something different, and in Hedrek’s case, something that takes pretty well-worn genre ideas and really plays around with them, remixes and redefines them, and comes out the other end with a book I went straight back to reading again and again.
Hedrek: Night of the Mummers Issues 1 and 2 (of a four-issue series)
Written by Laurence Alison, illustrated by David Hitchcock. Lettering by Robin Jones and Spectrashift.
Published by Scratch Comics
Ask your local comics shop for it or order it direct from Scratch Comics. And remember to back Henrek: Broken Pieces on Kickstarter as well.
Columbo meets the Wicker Man in a Cornish murder mystery – Hedrek’s a brilliant folk horror comic that you don’tCOMICONRead More