Bloodlust and Bonnets is a loosely illustrated, quickly paced, vampire hunting jaunt packaged into a 200ish page freshman graphic novel. This is author and illustrator Emily McGovern’s first publication, following the success of her webcomic series, My Life as a Background Slytherin. I chose this from my local library specifically because I was interested in if the stripped down facial details could carry the entire book. Human faces are frequently just a single dark dot signifying an eye alongside a thick brow, mouths missing completely. With those limitations I wanted to read the results of that kind of design challenge. Due to muddy backgrounds, the pulled back visual perspective that frames most scenes, and the improvisational impression of the first third of the story, I had a hard time parsing this book before it did, eventually, win me over.
Since this is McGovern’s first graphic novel, I would imagine some growing pains were worked through during the process of crafting the book. The first two pages are a possible example of this. Nine rows of panels are jammed in either as a result of not yet knowing what the ideal ratio should be, or from wanting to jump things off and set up the premise in exactly two pages.
Nonetheless, the tone is set in the first few pages. The protagonist Lucy, a red haired dame is out here slaying vampires, for some reason, and is approached for recruitment by the novel’s arch villain Lady Violet Travesty to be properly inducted into the vampire cult. Lucy appears to be down with this until The Lady Travesty promptly explodes into a fountain of blood on the next page, blown up by Lord Byron (from books) and his psychic falcon companion Napoleon. Lucy and Lord Byron dispatch the rest of the encroaching vampires, snog and then fly away with Pokémon logic using Napoleon to reach Lord Byron’s magical speaking castle in the hinterlands. But hark, the voice of the magical speaking castle was actually usurped by the again alive Lady Travesty who approaches Lucy once more about joining her coven of vampires on account of her special qualities, and Lucy is again completely down with this until Lord Byron again makes the lady vampire erupt in a sphere of viscera. Determined to find the lady before she spawns again, Lord Byron and Lucy take the initiative and leave to find her dwelling only to come across the gun-toting Sham, a shady but mostly competent bounty hunter who has been contracted to kill the same vampire lady whoever. They head off to find her for real for real, but without the aide of Napoleon since he is on vacation.
I described the impression I got of the early portion of the story as improvisational. This isn’t on its face true, since there was obviously a script, but it does remind me of improv scenes when done well. Through making enough strong and specific choices even at seemingly random, you can arrive on a synthesis that both starts to make sense and can be funny if you stick to character choices and object work that lands. Bloodlust and Bonnets, with its unexplained psychic birds of prey, respawning explosive vampires and mystic verbal castles, introduces all of these elements without any lampshading as just so, and the characters have to adapt to it all on the fly. Lampshading is reserved for plot contrivances or tropes and the askew glances given to those by everybody from the cast to the author to the reader are many in number. The telling of the story isn’t taken especially seriously, but the meat of the book goes into where the core of any good improv scene should go, the relationships between the characters.
The main three cast members, Lucy, Lord Byron and Sham are well defined and despite having joined up for this vampire hunting quest, are primarily at odds with each other. Lord Byron is a self-styled leader and a dandy fop who fails at most tasks that don’t involve exploding vampires and wants Lucy to be his uncomplicated wife while he wooes the boys at the bath house on the side. Sham is a guarded, masculine coded liar who has been hoodwinking the group from the start, but their competence and ability to look after others is attractive to Lucy. Lucy is a woman still searching for what her competencies even are, and is easily swayed by flattery, to the point that she is searching for Lady Travetsy’s cult to join because the vampire lordess complimented her. The clashing and resolution for all of these disaster bisexuals is the ultimate point beyond the relatively inconsequential vampire hunting plot, which mostly serves to provide set pieces for them all, such as an intel-gathering swing dance, a succubus’s woods, and a big bathhouse to do psychedelic drugs in.
The art style of the book did in some sense win me over too, even if I would have done most things differently. The panels become more evenly placed as the book progresses, and the muddy backgrounds of realistic locations give way once non-representational backgrounds become more prominent in trippy sections of the book’s latter half. The artist’s way of inking faces is not one that I truly grew accustomed to, but the way the panels are framed do not prioritize close ups, instead fitting most portions of multiple characters into them. This does have the knock-on effect of speeding up the story and fitting in quite a lot of sheer content in 216 pages instead of dwelling on close ups.
As for my recommendation, yes of course, pick it up. It is fun! Be careful not to mistake this for a strictly young adult reading, as I did, because while it is coy with its content for a while, there’s enough blood, beard-like pubic hair, nipples and drugs to fill an NC-17 movie. As if you didn’t need more reason to love graphic novels.
Bloodlust and Bonnets was written and drawn by Emily McGovern. It was colored by Rebakah Rarely. It was published and distributed by Andrews McMeel Publishing in 2019.
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