By Eamon Espey
It starts innocently enough—two grotesque twin boys shoving the pet cat into microwave at 30 seconds on Defrost. Take it as a warning sign from the author, right out of the gate—if these images disturb you, then now would be the ideal time to back out unscathed. Like a visual tour into the concentric circles of hell, the further one descends into Wormdye’s rabbit hole, the more simultaneously disturbing and engrossing the book’s words and images become, forgoing the former at times to cobble together an orgy of terrifying imagery, like small scale black and white tributes to Hieronymus Bosch, sketched out in the childlike pen of a latter day Gary Panter.
Like the Heaven and Hell painter, Eamon Espey seems to gleam some manner of visceral thrill from its depiction of such horror, however, unlike Bosch’s work, Wormdye largely eschews the Judeo-Christian code as a moral compass, at least on the surface largely ignoring that tradition altogether, save for an trip into a Vatican inhabited by a warlike, gluttonous pope who might easily go head-to-head with Boniface, himself gleefully satirized by Boccaccio and banished to hell by Dante.
Instead the roots of Espey’s storytelling feel decidedly more classical. The aforementioned twins who serve as the core of the book have more feral Romulus and Remus in them than Cain and Abel, a fact carried over into the deployment of armies of beetle creatures, bestial relations, and a woman who gives birth to a Pandora-like box.
Espey’s artwork too reflects such allegiances to classical forms, largely flat and devoid of perspective, as if it were scrawled on the sides of some ancient building or painted onto a long forgotten vase. But despite a fairly basic style drawn out with thick ink lines, the artist has quite a gift for cramming a large volume of visual information into a tight space, swirling the convergence of his objects together with conflicting patterns of hatched shading, an aesthetic complexity that matches the increasingly complicated twisting turns of his storytelling.
Wormdye’s plotpoints 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.