"Tripas Sangrientas de las Demonios"
("Bloody Demon Guts")
By Sam Hiti
I hadn't heard of Sam Hiti's Tiempos Finales, even though it's the recipient of the Xeric Grant has been reviewed by Christopher Butcher, TIME Magazine, Comic World News and The Comics Journal. But when that I spotted that glowing orange cover at my local comic store, I knew I had to buy a copy.
What is Tiempos Finales about? Here's a description from Sam Hiti's web site...
For the price of a townsperson's prayers, Mario Roman ("the Chilean") hunts down Demons in the five towns of San Pablo. But It will take the whole town supporting Him, that he may rid this Hispanic village of them all.
That's an accurate summary, but one that doesn't begin to do justice to the comic. With such a simple plot - mystical superman does battle with an army of demons - the book lives or dies on its style. Fortunately, Tiempos Finales has style to spare.
And such style! Tiempos Finales seems to exist in a world that's equal part dream and reality, a world where grass grows between the cracks of cobblestone streets and ectoplasmic demons lurk in the shadows, waiting to prey on the unwary. Characters are bizarrely exaggerated, and yet seem psychologically real. Hiti's eclectic art papers over the cracks - Mexican, Catholic and Cthulhoid imagery does battle on the page, enlivened by the occasional childlike drawing showing the best way to dissect a demon. Everything is creepy and suggestive without being horrific or grotesque.
Hiti's greatest strength as an illustrator is his ability to render everything with equal weight and strength; mystical sequences have just as much reality as scenes set in the "real world," man and demon are every bit as solid as the ground they tread on, and the titular "bloody demon guts" are rendered as lovingly as the shingles on a nearby rooftop. He doesn't back down from bizarre imagery, either. For instance, when Mario calls on God, we literally see the power of Christ folowing through his veins...
Hiti is not just an accomplished illustrator, he's also a masterful storyteller. Here's an early sequence from Tiempos Finales, where Mario walks the path from his hideout to the outskirts of San Pablo...
This is the most remarkable sequence of establishing shots I've ever seen. Not content to present a single distant shot of San Pablo, Hiti presents us with seventeen different views, each one focusing on a different facet of the town's environment. The first three pages with their deep valleys and vertical rhythms pull us down - down from the otherworldly planes of previous sequences and to the earthy, grounded world of San Pablo. The next two pages with their rope bridges and horizontal rhythms draw us across the environment into a human frame of reference, freeing us from the cramped, confining valleys of the previous page and giving us our first glimpse of San Pablo from a distance. And then, finally, we're drawn into the environment with a series of zooms, and then out to a different environment. The result is a phenomenal sense of space that comics rarely provide.
The unifying element that draws the sequence together is the presence of the setting sun, which begins to increase in prominence as dusk (and Mario's appointment with the demon) approaches. The panel on page 27 that consists of nothing more than the sun flows naturally from the previous panels - and yet, it also helps ease us into a change in focus, as we depart Mario's sphere and approach Tavito's.
As I said, a remarkable sequence. Can you think of another comic in the last year that would spend eight pages establishing the environment and mood? I certainly can't. Furthmore, the placement of this sequence early in Tiempos Finales helps establish the pace and tone for everything that follows - measured, methodical, atmospheric and slightly irregular.
Tiempos Finales is intriguing, mystifying, stylish and well-illustrated - in short, one of the most intriguing comics of 2004. Go out and get a copy, now. You won't be sorry.