Andrew Sztehlo’s “Tales from the Border” is unlike any comic I’ve ever read before. Admittedly that’s not saying a whole lot as my comic book knowledge isn’t the most in depth and its such a huge medium anyway that most of us have barely scratched the surface of whats out there. The book harkens back to an era where authors would write short or serialised stories for genre based publications like Science Fiction Quarterly or Tales from the Crypt. However whilst publications such as those would collect together works from different creators, “Tales from the Border” is predominantly the work of Sztehlo, although he does borrow here and there.
Sztehlo borrows from Emily Bronte and Oscar Wilde at times to put words to his monochrome illustrations, however its not the text that push the majority of these stories along but his monochrome work really drives home the tales he is trying to tell. The form of the book, which is larger than a standard comic book, and the often full page images make you study every single line and shadow, and every crack and wrinkle of his characters faces. There’s been an effort here not to tale the tales of people, but of the worlds that they live in, which Sztehlo acknowledges in his closing comments.
He’s also not afraid to bring in his own experiences, there’s a lovely tale of the love he shares with his father for Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s and how his appreciation for Cave’s work has evolved over time alongside his understanding of the music and lyrics. Music plays a key part in this first issue of Tales from the Border, as not only are we treated to the above personalised story, but Sztehlo also lists the songs that helped him create this issue and not only does Nick Cave make an appearance there too but we also are introduced to legendary Blues performer Robert Johnson, firstly by the track “Love in Vain” appearing in said track list but also by the inclusion of a story from a moment in ?Johnson’s life that gives an insight into the particular song listed in the opening pages but also the mind of a man who has loved and lost and has to battle his inner demons, it certainly makes a chance from yet another retelling of Johnson visiting the crossroads to sell his soul to the devil and gives the man a little more humanity, albeit that of a tortured soul.
Whilst reading this issue of Tales from the Border I couldn’t help thinking that my reading environment wasn’t a suitable setting for these stories. Instead of a room lit by daylight, albeit a rather grey and wet day, slouched on my sofa with a mug of coffee to hand, the tales being told here somehow feel better suited to a high-backed chair in a dark room lit only by a roaring fire, the night time wind and rain battering the windows whilst the reader nurses a double whisky and I think that should tell you everything you need to know about Andrew Sztehlo’s “Tales from the Border”.