Stay Alive (James C. Harberson III, Mackie Wildwood, Stephen Baskerville) is a new horror-comedy graphic novel from UK publisher Markosia which follows one Jane Morgan, a down and out z-list actress looking to revive her dead on arrival career. Unfortunately, her final bid at stardom involves becoming the most hated person on uKill, a website that crowdsources murder through a popular vote for entertainment, revenge, and profit. For the next ten days, Jane has to survive as both the internet’s enemy number one and network television’s newest sensation, but when a demented figure from Jane’s past is brought back into her life by uKill, things quickly spiral out of control.
Stay Alive starts a bit rough, honestly. The first twenty or so pages not only feel substantially slower-paced than the rest of the book, they feature a nearly gratuitous amount of general sleaziness. The intention of establishing Jane’s character is clear, but there are only so many breast panels before the effect is lost and the camera we’re watching the story through becomes a weird voyeur (maybe the point? Probably?). Were the book to receive a film adaptation, the first fifth or so could probably exist as a 5-minute introductory sequence, which may speak more to limitations of the medium than anything else.
To be fair, this early section also has to do a lot of heavy lifting with regards to the book’s concept– if the synopsis sounded far fetched that’s only because a lot of expositional dialogue is required to set up this premise, after which point the story can really take off. And take off it does, as from around page twenty onwards Stay Alive is equal parts hysterical and horrific. Once it gets going the book moves at the pace of a bullet train and is packed with sardonic black humor perfect for fans of films like Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. For every bit I wasn’t sold on the first few pages I was immediately won over by the one-two(-three?) punch towards the end of part one which involves a ruined make-a-wish for a terminally ill child, a hospital orderly bludgeoned to death with their own ripped off arms, and a man force-fed through helicopter blades. By the end of part one this thing grabs you and doesn’t let go.
What’s more, Stay Alive manages to touch on a lot of thematically heavy concepts regarding vanity, fame, and consumerism without being overly preachy. When the book is hamfisted it’s always because it means to be, and it’s always done with the perfect amount of tongue-in-cheek nods to the reader. For example, a keen reader will pay attention to the posters in the XBC exec’s office– this is apparently a man who produced a show called Suicide Hotline Confidential. Between subtle visual gags and solid comedic timing, the scathing indictment of fame and the lengths some people are willing to go to in order to achieve it still manages to be fun. Ultimately, we get to watch Jane go from a starry-eyed Hollywood dropout to a more practical and capable heroine as the reality of her situation sets in and the death toll climbs. Stay Alive is a wild thrill ride. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a film adaptation, as it seems perfect for it.
9 out of 10 Plague Doctor Masks