feature by Brittany Matter, originally published in IMAGE+
Something is always controlling us. Whether it’s climate change, social media, corporate overlords, or our employer, we’re never truly in command of our lives...unless we fight for it like in Wes Craig & Toby Cypress's THE GRAVEDIGGERS UNION. The Union does quite a bit more than dig graves. They’re a crew of blue-collar monster slayers fighting every supernatural being and elemental that threaten the survival of the human race. They battle steroid zombies, swamp vampires, ghost storms, and something we’re all too familiar with: management.
The creative team unfurls the dark fantasy world of THE GRAVEDIGGERS UNION and simultaneously folds the reader into it with a reminder of human history in a metaphorical sense: management has always been there but in the form of tyrannical beings ruling slaves. Cypress & Craig stage a tense tone with a bleak message, and it’s amplified by colorist Niko Guardia’s burnt vermillion, raven black, and arsenic tints of yellowish green. In the opening scenes alone, Guardia’s colors create a powerfully poisonous mood. As the story moves forward in time, the art changes, but that tension and feeling of dread sticks around, lurking in the background.
In the present, brighter hues of hot pink and purple make the action pulsate, and a familiar technique from Cypress’s recently debuted series RETCON makes an appearance. Smeared wide across the panel canvases are blazing bubblegum streaks, as if Bob Ross were using his palette knife to highlight important spots. Cypress’s signature detailed lines and exaggerated body parts are reminiscent of the foreboding decay in Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which serves to augment the horror that’s plaguing the people of THE GRAVEDIGGERS UNION. As the members of the Union are introduced, aged indigo and army green crop up in the background, suggesting the characters are at war and almost as durable as the denim they don.
These color choices strengthen the story, which effortlessly captures the zeitgeist of our current society—how capitalism creates monsters and class warfare, or how climate change impacts the most vulnerable. Craig’s also incorporating classic themes of older generations trying to protect the younger ones, and how people choose to face their demons daily to survive and become the best version of themselves.
With this first issue, the creative team is just beginning to weave eerily similar threads throughout their timelines. Even though the TGU workers get paid, they are still beholden to someone else, and on top of that, they are overworked and underpaid. For example, there’s a moment that captures the essence of workplace tension between employee and manager. Cole, the leader of TGU, doesn’t hold back with his supervisor, and it’s the kind of conversation you wish you had the guts to pull off.
Furthermore, Craig’s writing is rich with commentary on the relationship between corporations and consumers, and all of these real-world moments ground the story even as the fantasy and comedic horror bits elevate it.
While there are some heavy messages to unpack in this oversized first issue, the creators have a knack for keeping things light. They use familiar memes that deliver gallows humor and bleeped-out curse words that give us an idea of how the characters relate to each other. There’s a familial vibe to the Union, and by the end, I was ready to join to fight authority and the big bad apocalypse, resisting the end of the world as it crashes down all around.
Already, THE GRAVEDIGGERS UNION is an incredibly resonant story that’s deeply dark with a hint of comic relief, and as art has been known to reflect life, it reminds us how messy it can be. In THE GRAVEDIGGERS UNION #1, the creators masterfully shape a web of metaphors that have me clutching the edge of my seat, apprehensive about how real it will feel though excited to see where the story’s headed.
THE GRAVEDIGGERS UNION #1 debuts 11/1 and is available for preorder now.
Brittany Matter is a firecracker empath with a deep love for storytelling, ramen, and pour-over coffee, ideally all at the same time. You are most likely to find her immersed in a graphic novel, writing over cocktails, or looking after the people she loves. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.