Eamon Espey was born in Boston, MA in 1977. In 2002 he moved to New York to attain a Bachelors Degree in Cartooning from the School of Visual Arts. Around that time he began self-publishing the comic series Wormdye and co-founded Mount Olympus Society. His work has appeared in Critical Citadel, Free Radicals, and The Spitting Anorexic. Today Eamon lives and works in Baltimore, MD.
In assembling a top 100 list for 2000-2009, it’s important to remember that for the first time, it’s pretty much impossible to come up with something that resembles a definitive list that spans the world’s output of comics…
21. Wormdye, by Eamon Espey (Secret Acres). Espey creates a bizarre, hallucinatory world filled with nightmarish dream logic. Espey mixes dark humor, naivete’, visceral violence and a take-it-or-leave form of storytelling in his short stories that are related by theme and tone more than specific content.
- The Comics Journal
In Eamon Espey’s second book of comics, Songs of the Abyss, Santa Claus gets his dick sucked by a demoness as the pig-faced Queen of Hell approaches him astride a monster. Subsequently, Santa goes on a shooting spree, burns Mrs. Claus and the elves, shoots himself in the head, which, somehow, in a nod to a Residents’ song, becomes affixed to the body of a dog, Santa Dog…
This gorgeously rendered, wordless book of pen-and-ink drawings begins with the Egyptian story of the creation of the world as we see Atum masturbating into his own mouth and vomiting out Tefnut and Shu as progeny. As these two figures wander away from their creator, Atum pulls out his eye and throws it as far as he can, until it finds them. When it does, he weeps and creates the first human. From here, the story migrates to the biblical tale of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel (though, here, they are Tommy and Marco, recurrent characters in Espey’s work).
The plot remains frenetic throughout Songs of the Abyss. The wild action (often sexual in nature) of the characters—who are simply drawn—is set in brilliant contrast to the highly decorative patterns
of the backdrops. The elegant black-and-white style owes a lot to Edward Gorey and shares similarities with Marjane Satrapi, but the subject matter has more in common with R. Crumb and the other “freak” comics of the ’60s. For instance, in one scene, the gun-wielding Santa finds either Marco or Tommy in bed with a woman, while the other hides underneath. But the wood grain of the floor, the pattern of the quilt on the bed, the weave of Santa’s clothes, and the lines of the dresser (on top of which is a puking cat) are so densely textured that the relatively simply outlined characters seem to jump out from the page in a violent and grotesque glory.
The result is stunning and should put Espey on the level with almost any comic artist working today—and not just in Baltimore.
- Baynard Woods, City Paper
Eamon Espey’s Songs of the Abyss is an unsettling balance of the cartoonish, the grotesque, and the divine; an hallucinatory fever dream filled with surreal, nightmarish imagery, it’s also a vivid and
meticulously rendered mosaic by an artist with a formidable command of his own composition.
The artwork is in stark black and white with a bold line quality which lends the panels a woodcut like texture, as if they were tablets recovered from some forgotten peyote cult obsessed in equal measure
with Mayan iconography, Hieronymus Bosch, and Tijuana Bibles…
The element that holds it all together is, again, Espey’s striking artistic ability. In spite of the strange and often disturbing subject matter portrayed, the most powerful and resonant dimension of Songs
of the Abyss is the artful draftsmanship and the brilliant execution of it. There is an hypnotic cumulative effect to it, an almost narcotic sensory response to the sustained visual assault. The book alternates between traditional six panel pages, full page illustrations, and many permutations in between; despite it’s own abstract obliqueness, it unfolds in an oddly fluid way, with a logic that resonates from the deepest recesses of the human id.
The book of the year: Wormdye by Eamon Espey (Secret Acres), a plunge into the subconscious of contemporary America. It’s a portrait of life in a merciless world, with every perversion you can imagine (sadism, cannibalism, drug abuse and lactating grandfathers). It is about everything and nothing; it’s an orgy of primitive imagery, an appeal to your primal senses and most basal thoughts. Espey manages to combine Mike Diana’s scandalousness with Crumb’s obsessions, and lifts it all up to incredible heights. Wormdye is nothing less than the Howl of comics. I cannot find any higher praise.
- Wim Lockefeer, Forbidden Planet
Well. Secret Acres isn’t going to dispel its reputation for weird, arty comics with this one. If you’re into superheroes, you might as well stop reading, but then you’d miss Eamon Espey’s unique vision. Although his work bears comparisons to both Theo Ellsworth (whose The Understanding Monster we reviewed here) and Jim Woodring in its loopy journeys into the unconscious mind, it has its own charms, neither as driven by connected events as Woodring’s stories nor as disjointed as Ellsworth’s. Rendered in black-and-white in a highly patterned style, his characters trace archetypal narratives, discernible to some extent even without the notes in the back that provide captions of sorts for each page. A creation story, a tale of brother killing brother, echoes of American Indian and Egyptian myth are all present, along with heaps of genitalia, vomit, and violence. Do your kids still believe in Santa? Then you’d better keep Song of the Abyss on the top shelf, as Espey depicts him as an agent of his anagrammatic master, Satan. It’s possible the book is too blissed out and psychedelic. There are long
passages where you may lose track of what’s happening, and yet it’s all reminiscent of trying to reconstruct the thread of a rapidly dissipating dream, which makes it, in spite of its dogged difficulty, an experience worth having.
- Hillary Brown, Paste Magazine
I love Eamon Espey’s comics – black and white, psychedelic, neo-tribal, they frequently tap into a portion of the brain most of us don’t want to acknowledge we have. Egyptian gods, biblical monsters,
and a homicidal Santa Claus doing the devil’s business. And worms. I love the worms in Eamon’s books. Eamon Espey is a one-of-a-kind comics genius.
- Largehearted Boy
Wormdye’s plot points alternate between what feels like arcane mythologies—origin stories from a time when our gods were far less well-behaved—and small tributes to a time before Disney, when fairytale heroes were potentially every ounce as wicked as their villainous counterparts. Taken individually, they add up to little more than a collection of demented grotesqueries. Taken together, Wormdye’s story, like its art, is a fascinatingly complex tribute to the traditions of a bygone eras—one whose nature will almost certainly take several repeat visits to fully understand.
- The Daily Crosshatch
Espey’s vocabulary as a cartoonist is indeed that one-two punch of cruelty to children and animals coupled with sexualized violence that we’ve seen from Josh Simmons, and to a certain extent Hans Rickheit or even Al Columbia at times. As with Simmons and Rickheit, Espey’s line is a thick thing, deliberately ugly, all hyperthyroidal eyes and short, squat, grotesque figures, occasionally flourishing into what can only be described as bad-acid-trip vistas of depravity. He broadly lampoons every sacred cow in the herd–the Pope, the family farm, childhood, science. He undermines collective-unconscious root storytelling–fairy tales, mythology, primitive religion. to quote The Exorcist, he wants us to see ourselves as animal and ugly, shitting, killing, fucking, torturing, raping, lying, screaming, crying, cowering. His work is effective. Whether it’s an effect you care to experience is perhaps another question.
- Sean T. Collins
Wormdye is perhaps the most unique and truly bizarre graphic novel I have read in years. Eamon Espey crates a world filled with its own mythologies and often shocking imagery. Though not for the easily disturbed, Espey’s allegiance to classic comics shines through and the stories are disarmingly funny.
- Large Hearted Boy
Reading Wormdye is literally like a rollercoaster, an orgy of primitive images and metaphors, all depicted with equally primitive style. What is important to Espey is not the depiction of events, but the depiction of primeval feelings and basic thoughts. For this, he often reaches back to the pictorial language of ancient civilizations, while at the same time working in the underground tradition of Robert Crumb… Without doubt one of the most important, if not THE most important, book of the year.
- Stripgids (Belgian comics review)
The talent level of Baltimore’s art comics community increased exponentially when Eamon Espey moved back to town earlier this year. And his latest mini-comic proves why. We have little idea as to what’s going on in Wormdye #4—something about a survivalist extended family living on an island, and things keep going horribly wrong, such as finding a radio transmitter in an ear of corn that forces them to desert their home . . . maybe—but perhaps it would help if we had read the previous issues. It doesn’t matter, though, as Espey’s storytelling is so clear that the abundant surrealism—a man’s nipple starts spouting gallons of milk, people-drones shuck all day long at the Mitchell Corn Palace overlorded by pig people–goes down easy. Espey’s so-dumb-they’re-brilliant drawings, full of patterns, wavy lines, and crosshatching, are just plain fun to look at. And dead-eyed chickens pushing a balding farmer down a well? That’s never a bad thing.
- City Paper
Original and unique, Wormdye is a graphic novel like no one has seen. A bizarre story involving alien technology, the River Styx, and corn, the entertainment value is nonstop through the whole thing. Through its humor it also offers insights on the human experience as a whole, from everything from relationships to religion to death. Wormdye is a must for anyone seeking something offbeat and different.
- Mid-west Book Review
If it doesn’t make any sense to you and you hate it, well, chances are the rest of the book isn’t going to do much for you either. I thought it was brilliant, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much attention to detail in every single panel. Really, if he took any shortcuts here at all, they were well hidden. So what are the stories about? Well, King Tut, pee, suicide, cockroaches, Most Valuable Employee, maggots, and a robot.
- Optical Sloth
The Top 30 Minicomics of 2011
5. Ishi’s Brain, by Eamon Espey. In terms of narrative, this comic is much more straightforward than many of Espey’s nightmare-logic minis, making it an excellent entry point for readers new to the artist. As always, Espey’s comics inspire laughter, dread and revulsion all at the same time.
- Rob Clough, The Comics Journal
IN THE EMPORIUM
What happens when Bigfoot meets the Breeders? Why, our Scuttlebutt TCAF wrap-up, of course! You'd think we were kidding, but we're not. If it weren't for Bigfoot, we'd never had gotten to meet the Breeders and see them play Last Splash front to back way up in Toronto. This has nothing to do with comics, but then most of what happens at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival has nothing to do with comics. It's really about the dancing. And the singing. And the topless singing. Worry not, we did get Capacity 8 unboxed and there were no border issues for anyone (except for Casey). We even made it to our panel, first thing Saturday morning. That may have been perfect timing, because it was something like Between Two Ferns meets group therapy. We're lucky bastards, for sure, but we missed the Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon, singing Bette Midler's the Rose (and, no, he was not topless). If any of you have video of this, or pictures of Drawn and Quarterly's jean vests, please, oh, please get back to us. Read on...
Finally, we are hitting the asphalt for our first road trip of the year. It's a long drive to the Toronto Comics Arts Festival and we are carrying some precious cargo as usual. Theo Ellsworth is being delivered via airmail, with fellow Acres Brendan Leach, Joe Lambert and Edie Fake meeting us there. Sean Ford has called shotgun, and Capacity 8 is in the boot. Capacity 8 is one of those surprise births with which we are regularly blessed here at Secret Acres. It's also the first time anyone in our gang has dropped a new story for a series that we've collected. Capacity, Theo's big, fat book, is a complete thing, for sure. The eighth issue is all new territory, but it's still all true. In a way. In that Capacity way. Oh, and we'll be kicking off first thing Saturday with a small press panel featuring pals and heroes, Koyama Press, Rebus Books and Grimalkin Press, too. This year's Acresmobile comic mule is the legendary Dash Shaw. Alas, last year's hitcher, MK Reed, is too lazy to make it to TCAF. Everyone else better be heading up - or catching Eamon Espey's Ishi's Brain show in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yeah, we're looking at you. We're standing right behind you. No, the other way. Anyhow, there's explicit instructions up on Scuttlebutt.
PEOPLE OF THE SEATTLE: Tonight's the night! Go watch Eamon Espey and Lisa Krause as they bring their show, Ishi's Brain, to Hugo House. Which is in Seattle. Ishi's Brain is based on Eamon's story of the same name from his Secret Acres collection, Songs of the Abyss. Lisa Krause is an artist and puppeteer of Bread and Puppet fame, among other things. It's quite a unique experience and pretty much beats the hell of out any old, regular reading. They are on tour all over the country, but there's something fitting about performing Ishi in Seattle. You know, because Seattle is strange and dark and there are scary woodlands and coffee. The Richard Hugo House is also something to see in itself. They have a writers' residence for zinesters (currently held by ZAPP), classes on seemingly everything, a focus on a local writing community and, of course, performances. Go. Have fun. Report back to us. Even the Stranger says to check it out. See...
Stranger things have certainly happened, but it would appear our man, Theo Ellsworth, will have not one, but two debuts at the Toronto Comics Arts Festival. Yes, we will have the eighth issue of his ongoing Capacity (the first since our enormous collection of that title), but we'll tell you more about that later. Meanwhile, we knew Theo was working on a comic for an anthology, but we didn't realize it was the fourth Alternative Comics anthology. You may or may not be aware, but Alternative Comics published some truly amazing things, like Jeff Lewis' True Swamp and Steven Weissman's Yikes (yes, this was before Fantagraphics took over). Then they took some time off. Now they're back. Also included in this anthology are Alternative Comics graduate James Kochalka, this guy named Craig Thompson, the adorable Noah Van Sciver and #cybergang leader, Alex Schubert, to name a few. Get up to TCAF because it's amazing, and Theo and most of the Alternative Comics crew will be there to sign the thing. Collect them all!
On a more important note than usual: 282 Broadway is where the party has been for, well, seems like forever now. What the hell is that, you ask? It's the home address for Domino Books and Revival House and Rebus. It's known sometimes as Bill K's Place, as in Bill Kartalopoulos. Just about everyone who has ever attended or exhibited at a comics event in New York City or, hell, ever drawn a comic while in city limits, has been exhausted, high, drunk or lost in that apartment while rubbing elbows with their heroes. We've written plenty on our blog, about their comics and their parties, too. Now they're moving out. We're telling you this because these guys need a new home. Go buy some comics from them. Forget the good cause, their books are amazing and we've been seethingly jealous of their good work, so if you like us, help them and get some great stuff for yourself. Everybody wins!