ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1 by W. Maxwell Prince and Martín Morazzo
Story
Art
Characterization
Summary
Equals parts weird, campy, and genuinely upsetting, ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1 is a masterfully versatile take on anthologies.
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A Ringing Endorsement

ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1 collects the first four issues of W. Maxwell Prince and Martín Morazzo’s series from Image Comics. At first glance, ICE CREAM MAN might strike you as a slightly campy horror anthology. But there’s so much more depth to it than that. Under its sickly-sweet facade, ICE CREAM MAN manages to get at the center of what really scares us.

ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1
Courtesy of Image Comics.

A Quaint Yet Creepy Purveyor of Treats

Is it just me, or is there something immediately unnerving about the abstract concept of a comic that follows an Ice Cream Man? The cover of ICE CREAM MAN #1 says it all — these smiling child faces are creepy as hell! This shouldn’t scream horror to me, but it does. In fact, the series intentionally plays on our distrust of quaintness. However, I would be remiss to describe ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1 as simply a horror comic. The series definitely employs some classic horror tropes in ways that are referential and also disarming. However, I would more accurately describe this series as “weird fiction” — it pulls from fantasy, science fiction, and horror to create a feeling of building dread.

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ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1’s characterization of the Ice Cream Man himself is brilliant. In any old-timey film or family sitcom, he’s the character in the background who’s rich inner life you’re not really too interested in. But beneath his chipper, happy-go-lucky exterior lies darkness. And this darkness is complex. The Ice Cream Man gives out sweets, but those sweets have dire consequences.

Given that he acts as the glue for the entire series, I expected some kind of big twist at the end of ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1 that revealed the true nature of this deeply sinister title character. But, that reveal never comes. And I am so thankful for that. I like the idea that evil is incomprehensible in ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1. I like that there’s no way to nicely wrap up who the Ice Cream Man is and why he does what he does. We’re just not ready for that yet. 

ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1
Courtesy of Image Comics.

Campy and Deeply Upsetting

One thing (of many things) that I really appreciate about ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1 is that the trade does come to a climax. This is admittedly difficult to do in a series that bills itself as an anthology. However, each issue builds in both intensity and absurdity. The Ice Cream Man himself is slowly revealed to be more powerful and insidious than we may have first thought. And, through the introduction of another central character, ICE CREAM MAN #4 finds a way to grip readers into returning for the next installment.

ICE CREAM MAN touches on the real, mundane horrors of everyday life — from deadbeat dads to one hit wonders. W. Maxwell Prince also gets at what readers find deeply disturbing. It’s not blood or zombies but rather your loved one dying without you getting to hold them one last time. It’s the pain of growing old, the pain of being forgotten. These realities are intertwined with moments of camp and bright splashes of color. The whole experience is overwhelming and deeply unsettling. And I mean that in the best way.

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There are so many gems in this collection. For me, the real star issue was ICE CREAM MAN #2, as it touched on an issue that people in my life have been personally affected by. This story offers one of the bleakest takes on the opioid crisis that I have seen in any medium, one which subtly exposes the hypocrisy of how we view “junkies” versus people addicted to prescription painkillers. Beautifully, the writing for this issue veers into the territory of poetry. 

Drippy Pastels and Versatile Prose

W. Maxwell Prince shows off his writing chops here — he is wickedly versatile in his stylistic mastery. For two of the four issues, we get a matter-of-fact third person narrative reminiscent of Rod Serling’s moralizing delivery on THE TWILIGHT ZONE. He deftly switches back and forth between this style and more unconventional modes of storytelling. Although I am a big believer in “show — don’t tell,” this narration really works here.

ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1
Courtesy of Image Comics.

Martín Morazzo’s art compliments Prince’s stellar writing perfectly — his work keeps up with Prince’s sudden shifts in tone. Even in moments of peace, the visuals are disturbing in a way that you can never quite put your finger on. Characters are rendered with just a little too much detail — the subtle tick hatching in faces of the characters make each of them look just a little sickly. There is also something deeply unnerving about how Morazzo draws teeth. All of this contributes to the uncanniness of the series.

It’s worth noting that the coloring is also excellent. Even in its darkest moments, ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1 never veers too far away from the sweet pastels you would expect from a comic of this name. At every turn, the darkness of ICE CREAM MAN. Vol. 1 is undermined by the tonal contrast of the coloring — and it works perfectly by keeping readers off balance. You never really know what ICE CREAM MAN is preparing to throw at you next.

A Ringing Endorsement of ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1

I was surprised by just how much I loved ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1. I would go as far as to say that this is the best comic I have read in 2018 thus far. Admittedly, my tastes are pretty niche. However, I know that I am not the only reader out there that craves a perfect blend of creepy, weird, campy, and genuinely upsetting. I hope we get another scoop of ICE CREAM MAN coming real soon. And, I hope that Prince and Morazzo continue to demonstrate the incredible restraint they had in this first collection. The sustained mystery of this anthology’s central character, as well as the creator’s willingness to tackle real anxieties will continue to set ICE CREAM MAN apart from the other anthologies on the market.

Pick up a tasty scoop of ICE CREAM MAN Vol. 1 when it comes out June 20th!

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