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Purgatory is a comic by Holly Brown, hosted on Tumblr, which does not allow either keyboard navigation or “click comic to get to next comic” navigation, which annoys me a little, but let’s see if the comic itself can win me over from its hosting.
Our story starts with a series of great facial expressions from this glasses man. Personalities are coming out strong through the art, and I like Kamina-Glasses-Man devoting two whole panels to just being angry in a 360-degree sphere. “Damian” is also a pretty loaded name to have in a religious-themed story, since it kind of sounds like demon and also because The Omen.
I also like this bit of world building, in that the punishments for skipping school are really harsh (and, given that the comic is called “Purgatory”, it’s presumably a very religious school as well).
Hm. I thought this kid’s pointy shades were vaguely reminiscent of Kamina, but now he’s also sharing the name of Gurren Lagann’s protagonist? That’s…..almost 100% a coincidence, I think. But it’s going to stick in the back of my mind now.
Simon sings a song that totally fucking blows and has no meter or rhyme, but I’m legitimately curious how god “fires” you. More importantly, note Simon’s air quotes in panel 2, which is a subtle little detail that actually becomes important later. I love subtle little details that become important later! Specifically, it causes Father Fuhrervillian
To declare that Simon shouldn’t sing again. We get some Simon backstory about how he’s the son of the priest (guess they’re not Catholic) being groomed to be the new priest. And then
It took a while (29 pages!) to get here, but we’re finally at the premise of the comic: An odd couple pair of teens are having an illicit same-sex relationship in an extremely religious country practicing some kind of pseudo-Catholic fundamentalism. I’m inclined to like the decision to have the religion be a fictional one based on old-timey Christianity, but let’s see how it actually plays out before I get into why.
Damian and Simon spend forever having vague flirty hijinks before “the prick” (Father Fuhrervillain, who still hasn’t been named) and his kid come over to have a rather vague conversation about who will be “picked”. Then everyone goes to a cathedral to wash some drapes. I get that this is setup, but it’s starting to feel a bit padded.
Damian politely takes a moment to not know how his own religion works so Merari and Simon can exposit that the Cathedral is only rarely used by “Chord” members, and then justify Damian’s ignorance by casually mentioning he’s from an “old sect”. This is actually pretty good exposition, since everyone has a reason to explain things besides just letting the readers know. Good job, Purgatory!
I get that there was a time where Liberace was a straight male sex symbol and all, but Damien is wearing a Japanese schoolgirl uniform with booty shorts, stockings, and a garter belt to maintain that Zettai Ryouiki aesthetic. I’m starting to think those are women’s shoes as well. Everyone else is dressed like a Mormon and Damien is dressed like a fetishy Sailor Moon and no one finds this worth commenting on?
The party ventures into this super creepy dungeon while Simon exposits a bit about it. I’m still not a fan of the slow pace (seriously, it’s been like 30 pages since they went on their mission to wash the drapes), but it’s in the service of setting a creepy mood, so I’ll allow it. It helps a lot that Holly Brown is able to draw some really nice environments to look at. This whole skull-and-drapes dungeon has a lot of great atmosphere, and makes me think of the Forest Temple from Ocarina of Time.
I also like the short scene of Merari and Damian bonding over the mutual academic failures. It’s nice that Merari isn’t completely one-dimensionally evil like a lot of religious characters in LGBT comics.
Father Fuhrervillian beats Simon up in the bathroom, and the “Washing the drapes” arc comes to a sudden end. Fuhervillian threatens that Damian will be “chosen” for the vague thing if Simon narcs on him, so I guess you don’t wanna be chosen.
Yep, it’s human sacrifice. Kind of obvious. More of a surprise is that Simon’s mother got sacrificed in the past, despite being the wife of the head priest. Simon decides to cheer up Damian by returning to the corpse dungeon, which seems weird but okay. And, after showing Damian his little hideaway in the dungeon, Simon crashes into the end of the current pages, and now we’re all caught up.
This is not exactly a breakneck pace. It’s roughly 170 pages long, and it still feels like it’s in the “setup” phase. This comic is nearly as long as the entirely of Lucky Penny (192 pages) or A Contract With God (196). If this were a manga, it could be easily adapted into three whole episodes,and I still don’t know what the plot is. Like, there’s a gay couple in a super-religious society that I presume is homophobic but that hasn’t actually been stated. Are they trying to hide their relationship? Is their relationship an incidental detail because Damian is at risk of being sacrificed for unrelated reasons? Why does Simon wear Gurren Lagann glasses?
I criticized Household Slime Mold for its slow pacing, but by page 71 of that comic, we’d established all three main characters, their relationships, their abilities, the premise of the comic, and had a story with a beginning, middle, and end as Mildew proved her worth as an apprentice witch (and chapter 2 seems to be significantly faster so far, so good for them!). Twice that time in Purgatory has been spent almost entirely on worldbuilding, exposition, and tone, with a plot nowhere to be seen.
That said, it’s great tone. Holly Brown can draw some really nice cathedrals, and while she maybe didn’t need quite so many pages of cathedral porn (or of Simon washing his hands), her comic has a very, very strong sense of place. Merari’s scene with Damian complaining about homework does a great job at rounding out a dickish character in a short time. The cellar is a cool location. But, like,
When we got to this page, which is page 38, I thought I knew where this comic was going. I was sure they were gonna get caught, and everything was going to go to hell and the plot would start. But instead….nothing happens. Not only do they get away with this plan, there’s never even any tension where “Oh shit, dad’s coming, wake up Damien an get into the right bed!” teasing. There’s nothing.
Nothing happens in this comic. The main story arc so far has literally been washing drapes, and the only peril the characters have been in is that Damian was considered for being sacrificed but the powers that be decided not to with no intervention from the protagonists at all.
I’m sure at some point this will get going, but it sure as hell ain’t yet. It’s a testament to Holly Brown’s worldbuilding ability that I didn’t get bored to tears by this comic, and it’s definitely worth reading if you struggle with giving your comics a good sense of place, but I’m just sitting here waiting for them to get to the fireworks factory.