Old Folks’ Home is the third instalment of Year of Fear, a collection of horror tales from Glasgow-based small press outfit Laser Age Comics. But despite the horror billing, the genre of this story is very much pitch-black comedy. The setup sees a middle-aged business exec return home from work to find his elderly parents waiting for him. This comes to a surprise to our protagonist, given that he had shipped them off to the Craigview retirement home, where he expected them to stay. The surprises keep on coming, as it turns out his parents have brought a few friends from the home along with them. And it’s not just a cup of tea and a chat they want. They want revenge too…
Writer Jamie McMorrow clearly approaches the narrative with some degree of relish, creating an ensemble of twisted old nutjobs. But as crazy as his elderly intruders are, you can’t help but think they’re somewhat justified in their campaign of terror. The mother/ringleader gives a compelling monologue laying out how much of her life she gave to her children, and how little she has got back from them in return. And the snotty, condescending attitude of her son before he realises his life is in danger does little to refute her claims. This is where McMorrow’s script is at its sharpest, picking apart the morality of sending our parents away to a nursing home once they’re old enough to become a burden. It’s a situation many of us are likely to be in at some point (possibly experiencing both sides of the situation, eventually), so this subject matter – even against a backdrop of lunacy – can still push buttons that make it feel very relevant.
If there’s a problem with McMorrow’s plotting, it’s that too often he pulls his punches. On more than one occasion, he’ll set it up so that it seems like the old folks have done something truly horrifying, only for them to turn round and say, “Only kidding! We wouldn’t really do that!” That, to me, feels like a bit of a cheat, because you’re recognising the dramatic power of such a reveal and are exploiting it to get that emotional response from your reader for a beat, but then you don’t want to see it through and be too controversial and so issue a hasty retraction. The ending also feels like a bit of a pulled punch, offering a minor twist that doesn’t really do much to alter the dynamic of the story, thus making it feel a bit like a pat afterthought. But this underwhelming last page is forgivable, given that it follows a masterfully constructed and cleverly executed climactic sequence that is surely the highlight of the whole plot.
Less forgivable are the grammatical errors. I’m not talking about the Glasgow slang. That was nice to see in a comic, and well done for the most part. I’m talking about the dodgy sentence structure, missing punctuation, little things that it’s easy to overlook, but can very quickly take me out of a story. It’s very hard for an indy comic to present itself at a professional quality, and that uphill struggle is made even more difficult with dodgy grammar in the script. This is the base building block that everything else is built on, after all. This niggle aside, however, my overall impression of McMorrow’s writing was a positive one.
But for me, it’s artist Garry McLaughlin that steals the show in Old Folks’ Home. With an offbeat style reminiscent of fellow Scottish artists Frank Quitely and Iain Laurie, while still being very much its own distinct entity, McLaughlin’s visuals are the perfect compliment to the crazy characters and situations provided by McMorrow’s script. The collection of creepy faces and unusual body shapes really helps sell the characterisation of the old folks, making them seem like ghouls even before they become overtly threatening. Our protagonist’s mum and dad, in particular, are given a menacing, inhuman quality, with their thick, whited-out glasses blocking out their eyes.
McLaughlin excels not just in his depiction of characters, however, but in places and situations. One early highlight is an evoactive recreation of Royal Exchange Square, a place in Glasgow I’ve walked through countless times, but never thought I’d see rendered in comic form. The impact of the aforementioned masterful climax is further heightened by the clever arrangement of panels, creating a sense of breathless, jerking motion. But best of all is a gruesome splash page in the middle of the comic, by equal turns horrific and hilarious (or maybe it’s just horrific, and I’m a seriously disturbed individual).
Old Folks’ Home is a comic with good writing, and great art. In addition, the inks of Jenna Morgan add heavy blacks, giving the whole comic a stark, monochrome aesthetic that means the absence of color is never really a problem. The comic looks great. Definitely a oneshot worth seeking out… especially if you’re mulling over sending granny away to a nice home and converting her bedroom into a home entertainment studio.
Old Folks’ Home is available to buy from Laser Age Comics’ official website.