If you’ve ever dabbled with any EC comics (for the uninitiated, they ran a whole stable of comics in the 1940s and 50s, from Tales of the Crypt through to The Vault of Horror, that had parents worrying themselves silly about what their kids were reading), you’ll have an inkling of what to expect from Dutch graphic novelist and illustrator, Erik Kriek’s portmanteau graphic collection, In the Pines. Taking its title from the old Blues standard covered by Nirvana on their Unplugged show, Kriek himself covers five murder ballads in EC style.
These days, murder ballads are known to most as a result of Nick Cave’s 1996 album, Murder Ballads – and one of the tracks on that appears here, “Where the Wild Roses Grow”, once a duet between Cave and Kylie Minogue of all people (during her ‘Indie’ Kylie phase when the Manic Street Preachers thought she was the cat’s pyjamas).
The tradition dates back to the 17th century, and the book opens with ‘Pretty Polly’, a derivation of ‘The Gosport Tragedy’ which is among the oldest murder ballads known to exist. At the other extreme, Kriek also works up a version of the song (and short story) ‘Taneytown’ by Steve Earle (recorded in 1997) and ‘Caleb Myer’ by Gillian Welch (1998).
Deeply moral, in their own way, we have murderers driven mad by phantoms on the high seas, adulterers hung for murders they didn’t commit, tales of racial injustice, men haunted from beyond the grave by innocents who died in their stead, rapists tossed to their doom offof clifftops and murderous criminals looking to rob apparently guileless women who turn out to be meaner than a sack of snakes.
Kriek’s style is not a million miles away from that of Nick Hayes (and Hayes’ own Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads would make a nice double bill with this book), with images marked out in duotone and lineless frames blocked out by the edge of the picture. You can also see that there is a respectfulness at work, and to an extent a conventionality.
It would be good to see a mix of shorter and longer stories (seven or eight stories of two or three pages, interspersed with stories of 30, 40, 50 pages) and a variety of styles (making the link to EC a little starker, trying different styles of framing (a murder ballad told in the style of Chris Ware, say, or a murder ballad told without words etc)) if there were further editions (which we suspect there will be…). We’d also like the volume turned up on the horror please!
Any Cop?: A stylish first outing for these graphic murder ballads.