The Ebony Reef: Eco-Horror Teaser Leaves You with Cravings, Reviewed By Bob Freville
Writer Anthony Trevino (co-author of the Hissers trilogy) and Kai Martin (accomplished artist and convention fixture) have been friends since their freshman year of high school. Their 20+ year friendship is palpable in the pages of their horror comics, which singe your eyeballs with a synergistically dim view of the human race and its myriad atrocities.
Trevino and Martin first collaborated in 2015 with the profoundly bungled release of Trevino’s King Space Void, an ambitious sci-fi novella that was Bizarroed up for the “editors” at Eraserhead Press for their hit-or-miss New Bizarro Author Series. Martin provided the fittingly insane cover art for the book’s jacket.
Despite a staggering lack of editorial oversight on the part of its publisher, King Space Void displayed promise, suggesting a phantasmagorical talent in utero. After the sting of the botched release, an incubation period resulted in Trevino and Martin teaming up for the revenge-fueled cliffhanger, Fruition, an indie comic driven by rage.
With their devilish dynamic in place, the duo began turning out some of the most exciting offerings in the indie comic realm. Check out their story in Tales of Horrorgasm for a quick shot of karmic bloodshed. But your real focus should be on snapping up a copy of their latest, an ashcan teaser of their forthcoming book.
Trevino and Martin’s latest was influenced as much by a hunger for character-driven, atmosphere- focused horror as it was by the works of Clive Barker, Charles Burns and Junji Ito. Trevino has been making a name for himself in indie horror with his work on Hissers and his inclusion in a number of anthologies, most notably CLASH Books’ Walk Hand in Hand Into Extinction.
Meanwhile, Martin spent the mid-2000s pursuing a graphic design degree and live painting on San Diego’s nightlife circuit before becoming a vendor at music and arts festivals. After COVID lockdowns finally ended, Martin began working full-time as an independent artist. That career autonomy enabled him to work in fits and starts on what is shaping up to be next year’s most coveted indie comic.
The Ebony Reef made a splash in July at San Diego Comic Con where it sold out within hours. The teaser’s immediate success comes as little surprise given the gorgeous intricacy of Martin’s black-and- white illustrations and the perfectly esoteric title. The name The Ebony Reef is evocative of ancient depths, Southern Gothic macabre, and much more.
The front cover of The Ebony Reef Preview Edition suggests something as physically horrific as Cronenberg’s body horror and as claustrophobic as Carpenter’s The Thing. In fact, the plot—so far as one can surmise from this rather short teaser—feels like it would be right at home in the filmography of the western horror fatalist.
While these influences are immediately sensed when pouring over its pages, The Ebony Reef never comes off as yet another hackneyed rip-off. There are plenty of books and movies that function as little more than “homages” to modern genre classics, but The Ebony Reef is better than that—from the get, it
feels like something else, something new.
Mr. Keyes is a cutthroat billionaire who’s just arrived at the site of a lucrative asset—the massive offshore eco-fracking rig he sunk $30 million into. The rig is in ruins and the crew have gone to pieces (both figuratively and literally). Something heinous has caused all living things to go berserk in their remote captivity; it may be the crew’s ration of protein bars or their supply of energy drinks or, more probably, it is something else far more minacious.
Trevino lays the groundwork for a knuckle-gnawing suspense-imbued eco-thriller full of dank atmosphere, sodden dread, and dialogue so hard-boiled it’s cracked clean of its shell. The attention to detail by both writer and artist is venerable; an early look at Mr. Keyes’ reflection in a crewmember’s supplied-air respirator and the fresh crude staining the crew’s uniforms are two examples of the duo’s meticulous efforts.
In the past, Trevino and Martin have created one extended black-and-white book pitched somewhere between noir and The Twilight Zone (the enjoyable if wholly uneven Fruition), and one extended black-and-white book pitched somewhere between noir and The Twilight Zone (the enjoyable if wholly uneven Fruition). Here, however, their mutual work seems to be maturing, as Martin’s obsidian grids and use of the page match the gameness of Trevino’s Stygian imagination.
At once, The Ebony Reef reminded me of my favorite books, graphic or otherwise, sharing much in common with the works of David J. Schow and Thomas Ligotti and the gritty chronicles of consequence in Pacific Comics’ old Twisted Tales. As with the eldritch yarns of Dennis Etchison or the unhinged drawings of Mike Ploog from those old PC pages, The Ebony Reef plunders our fears from panel one, giving us the jumpy, the drippy, the jittery, and the visceral.
To be sure, The Ebony Reef is not the first genre entry to make grist of fracking or oil drilling, but if the teaser is any indication, it may offer the most impish take on the matter. This debut ashcan hints at Soylent Green territory, while flirting with the possibility of something far more cosmic.
Martin’s evolving style seems tethered to the underparts of some arcane abyss, visually realizing the horrors of Trevino’s hideous mystery before they have truly been revealed. Things are immediately askew in The Ebony Reef, from the weeping insect-infested eye of its cover—some porthole-made- flesh giving us our first glimpse of the infernal rig—to the impossibly scrambled messages in the crew training videos that kickstart this ghastly tale.
Martin’s onyx shading and intricate linework expertly etch out the terrible tumult. I had a blast digging into this bite size enigma, which succeeds at establishing a bloody mystery and steeping that mystery in hellacious insinuations. Here’s hoping the gruesome twosome behind this bit of eco-terror have enough fuel in the tank to take it all the way.
Bob Freville is a writer, producer and director from New York. His LoFi vampire film Hemo was released by Troma. His X-rated bikersploitation novella The Filthy Marauders is available from The Evil Cookie Publishing. He is the writer-producer of the forthcoming Norwegian drug comedy The Scavengers of Stavanger. Look inside his head: @bobfreville