Cold Heat #1
BJ and Frank Santoro, writers/artists
PictureBox, Inc., 2006
Originally written on November 22, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal
Cold Heat is a terrific comic for people who don’t think of their adolescence as having been particularly adolescent. That is to say, the prevailing approach toward reminiscing about one’s teenage years seems to be one of cringing embarrassment–no, actually, more one of condescension: “Ugh, what a little idiot I was then, I can’t believe I listened to Stone Temple Pilots,” etc. Writer-artists BJ (aka Ben Jones, he of those dog comics) and Frank Santoro say “fuck that noise” and instead choose to emphasize the rapturous beauty that adolescence’s grandiose melodrama and edge-of-disaster emotion constantly infuses into everyday life, particularly where music and romance are concerned. In doing so they craft a comic that is impossible not to compare to both arenas. Cold Heat‘s wispy, barely-there linework, the visual leitmotif of swirling and the rock-centric storyline–the events of the first issue revolve around our heroine Castle’s reaction to the fatal overdose of Joel Cannon, beloved lead singer of the noise band Chocolate Gun–don’t so much suggest as demand references to the blindingly happysad guitar maelstroms of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and M83. Moreover, readers of a certain age will no doubt remember the whirlwind of emotion they were caught up in upon the death of Kurt Cobain, the likely inspiration here. I still remember storming away from the dinner table when my dad dared to agree with Andy Rooney’s “good riddance” assessment of Kurt’s passing; Cold Heat is a little like remembering that incident in comic book form. But the romance angle is important too. The book starts out with an almost anti-romantic vignette–Castle is callously informed by the CEO of the company at which she is an intern that the outfit has gone belly-up after just having had sex with him. “I forgot my CD player there,” she realizes after she leaves–one more regret. But soon the wide-eyed, upturned-face beauty of Jones and Santoro’s portraiture of Castle takes hold, suggesting a lo-fi–or more accurately, doodled-during-math-class–approximation of romance-era John Romita Sr. The simplistic pink, white and blue color scheme adds to the “just hadda get it down on paper before study hall ended” feel so effectively that you might not notice the subtlety with which a sort of crayon shading is used to evoke smoke-filled, drug-addled parties and the lonely, scary darkness of suburban nightfall. And the hints of craziness–a murder mystery, a potential World War III, a minotaur carrying a severed head–somehow combine to evoke teenagedom much more accurately than a strict slice-of-life comic would. Add in the slick cover stock, a letters page (called “Heat Waves!”), a letter from editor Dan Nadel that reads like liner notes from that old Temple of the Dog CD you’ve been meaning to rip to your iTunes and a short prose story by Timothy Hodler about falling in love with the office superhero fan, and you’ve got a comic that feels like a cable from a world where the only thing that exists is a dimly lit bedroom in which you’re wearing ripped jeans and you just keep listening to and rewinding “Teen Age Riot” over and over again. Outstanding.