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Ren Hayes
Cabal Asylum, 32 pages

Ren Hayes
Ren Hayes is a Denver, Colorado-based writer/artist. In addition to Cain, he also is editor of the quarterly horror anthology Cabal Asylum and maintains the horror/comedy Khaballa Jones page. Cain costs $1.50 per issue or $9.00 for a year's subscription (bi-monthly) from Cabal Asylum -

Cain Site
Cabal Asylum

Past Feature Reviews
A review by A.L. Sirois

I've always liked comics. Not the funny guys onstage -- comic strips and comic books. I grew up reading Superman and Batman, and as many of the other titles in the DC stable as I could get hold of (I was never much of a Marvel fan). In my teens, I started getting more serious about drawing. I more or less naturally gravitated toward a bolder, comic book type of style. I began copping licks from Curt Swan and Carmine Infantino and Gil Kane and some of the other artists I liked.

At the same time I was reading MAD. I was knocked out by the skill of Mort Drucker, George Woodbridge and the other artists. I picked up the old MAD paperbacks (well, they weren't so old then) from Ballantine and realized that MAD had been even better than it was then, in the 60s. I'm talking Harvey Kurtzman here, and Wally Wood, Jack Davis, Will Elder.

I read everything about comics that I could find, too. As a result, I gained an understanding of and appreciation for the history of the field, all the way back to the primitive strips of the late 1800s, on through the brilliant work of Winsor McKay (Little Nemo in Slumberland) and George McManus (Bringing up Father) and so many others, on through the great 30s strips like Krazy Kat and Flash Gordon.

This was really heaven for me. I was particularly attracted to Wally Wood's emphatic style. I began copying his stuff into my sketchbooks so I could see how things got done. Not that I had a clue, you know. But I began to get a dim understanding of some of the basics. Long story shortened, years later I realized a boyhood dream and actually got to work for Wood in the 70s as his assistant. Did I learn a few things? Well, duh! (One thing I learned was that SF writer Harry Harrison worked with Woody for a short time!)

Anyway, I did comics pretty seriously for a while there. Then I got out of the field, but I retain an interest in it. I still love cartooning and animation. I've even published a minicomic or two of my own, in addition to comic book continuity (scripts) and so on.

So when Cain arrived, I was looking forward to it.

But I have to say that I'm somewhat disappointed.

I think the idea of it is fine -- it's a Harlan Ellison riff with the original Cain still being kept alive by a vengeful god. But after Hayes sets up the situation he doesn't really follow through satisfactorily. Cain lives in the huge, ever-changing city of Nod, where he is the master. He is prey to hallucinations of blood and death, and slays with impunity anyone who crosses his path. The whole setup reminds me of the old Mister X comics, with an enigmatic figure having weird adventures in a mysterious city.

So what we have is essentially a study of violence and pathology, done in Ren Hayes's emphatic but crude post-modern style, with a lot of emphasis on photocopies to provide the backgrounds. In other words, it's a super-anti-hero comic. That's okay, but...

The big problem is that Hayes really doesn't draw that well. His characters' hands, in particular, are imperfectly articulated. Cain's face is Mongolian, flat and mask-like with no subtlety of expression. No details of his form are discernible because he always wears a billowing black cloak. I haven't seen any of Hayes's other work, but judging by this, he absorbed some of the superficialities of Marvel comics anatomy and figure posing (you know, that heroic Thor "By the gods!" jive with the pointing and the bulging muscles and so on), seized upon post-punk handbill art as a guide to layout, and a superficial Biblical theme as a means to a provide a lot of violence and bloodletting.

Because that's pretty much all that happens: Cain wrestles with his demons, both real and imagined, and slashes them to bits. Give me The Spirit any day. Will Eisner (and Jules Feiffer, who did a lot of the scripting) knew how to write characters with depth and put them into human situations. Cain has too few points of contact to allow any real empathy with the character.

I think the EC horror comics did more interesting stories. (Hell, I think Dave Sheridan, Fred Schrier, R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton, et al, did better stories in the 60s and 70s undergrounds!) And as far as the psychological stuff, I haven't seen anything that tops the DC series Watchmen from the last decade. Marvel beat that horse to death with Spiderman and his neurotic ilk, anyway. It doesn't do a lot for me, either as a story or as graphic art. Maybe I'm just too old-fashioned -- maybe I just don't get it. I am willing to cop to that. I am old-fashioned enough to expect good art and stories with depth.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for indy (independent) comic publishing, and Hayes has done all the work here. He's promoting himself and getting the review copies out. That's how artists build an audience. But his product doesn't hold up under scrutiny, at least as far as I am concerned. On the other hand, it's healthy for a creative person's reach to exceed his or her grasp. This is how artists develop. I hope the next issue of Cain will be an improvement over this one.

Copyright © 1999 by A.L. Sirois

A.L. Sirois walks the walk, too. He's a longtime member of SFWA and currently serves the organization as webmaster for the SFWA BULLETIN. His personal site is at

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