Friday, September 02, 2016

Comic Book Finds: Blair Witch Project (1999)

Panel from "Elly Kedward's Curse" illustrated by Tommy Lee Edwards.
The time-honored practice of comic book-movie tie-ins frequently results in some interesting comci book titles being published. 1999's little-horror-film-that-hit, The Blair Witch Project, built it's artificial mythology in the "real" (and reel) worlds in an unprecedented fashion. While most are familiar with the SciFi (now "SyFy"...ugh) Channel faux documentary, The Curse of the Blair Witch, the development of the story goes much further than many suspect.

Cover to The Blair Witch
Project
#1 (First Printing)
Beyond even the commonplace novelizations that come with popular film releases, there was also a comic book one-shot. Rather than a retelling of the film's story in comic book form, Oni Press' The Blair Witch Project contributes an additional level of mythology to the key characters and events that, while important to its overall narrative, never actually appeared in the first movie.

With anticipation building for the third film in the series, Blair Witch (2016), to be released on September 16, the time seems right to rifle through some long boxes of older comic books in hopes of coming across the copy I knew I had purchased 17(!) years ago when it was first released. Filed nearby another unusual movie tie-in, Oni Press' Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (2000) one-shot, I was pleased to see it had not been discarded by my wife.

From "She Needs Me: Coffin Rock"
illustrated by Guy Davis.
This single issue (later followed up by a three issue mini-series entitle The Blair Witch Chronicles) contains three faux-adaptations of Cece Malvey's "Wood Witch Said" journals, "original" pages of which are shared on the last page. The unifying creative thread among these three stories is writer, or the individual hired to  "annotate and adapt" according to the credits boxes, Jennifer Van Meter. In the Foreward on the inside cover, it is revealed that Van Meter was offered the writing assignment by editor-in-chief Jamie S,. Rich because the author likes "weird crap." While not the most normal criteria for matching writer and material, here it works.

The pairing of each individual story with artist is equally impressive. The individual artistic styles of Tommy Lee Edwards, Guy Davis, and Bernie Merault are used effectively to create unique looks for each time period setting. While each of the three artists' styles vary, the common visual element of being inked solely in black and white lends cohesion to the proceedings. This combination of common writer and visual nuance, along with the varying artistic styles create a visual sense of progress that further contributes to a sense of movement through the narrative. Each short story covers Blair Witch background beginning with the origination of the curse and concluding with a glimpse at the Rustin Parr murders that are the precursor to the now iconic final shot of the Blair Witch Project film was derived.

A portion of the detailed appendix from the back
cover. Here, the numerous footnote from throughout
are explained in detail, supplying an even deeper level
of meaning to the Blair Witch mythology.
It has been a few years since I have seen the film (which is currently not available on wither Netflix or Amazon Prime for free streaming), but after reading this comic book I am confident I never watched the film in light of its mythology as fully as possible. A tribute to the story-within-a-story writing of Van Meter, as well as its carefully crafted "authenticity", it was difficult not to begin searching online through the names of the supposed writers and false historical events. Down to its footnotes and annotations, The Blair Witch Project comic book effectively reads like a visual representation of the person whose thinking it is intended to reflect--the educated and increasingly crazy Cece Malvey.

A brief synopsis (cribbed, in small part, from a promotional entry on MyComicShop.com) suggests the historical scope presented in the single comic book issue:
  • "Elly Kedward's Curse" art by Tommy Lee Edwards. In 1785, Elly Kedward was driven out of the Township of Blair in North Central Maryland. A year later, her accusers started disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Fearing Elly had cursed them all, the people of Blair fled, abandoning their town and giving birth to a legend.
  • "She Needs Me: Coffin Rock" illustrated by Guy Davis. In 1886 Burkittsville, a young girl is lured into the woods where she becomes a vehicle for a measure of graphic revenge against the men of the community levied by Elly's spirit.
  • "Left Alone: The Rustin Parr Killings" by Bernie Mireault (BEM). In a more modern setting, loner Rustin Parr is prompted by a voice in his head to kidnap and murder children from the local community. Readers are given insight into Parr;s thinking whcih reveals the familiar "voice" of the Blair Witch's guiding words.
With a new film being released, and one with ties to characters to the first, there is a good chance that the background revealed in this back issue bin survivor may increase one's level of enjoyment of the film. Even if it is not "officially" part of the new film's canon, The Blair Witch Project is both an interesting cultural artifact and an interesting example of well-researched modern myth building. The original single issue one-shot was originally priced at $2.95 and carried a "Mature Readers" label. It is very likely available in the back issue bins of your local comic shop at cover price or can be ordered online,along with other related Blair Witch titles for significantly less than cover price.

From "Left Alone: The Rustin Parr Killings" illustrated by Bernie Mireault.

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