I was never much of a metalhead. I mean sure, in high school I listened to the same antisocial noise as every other disaffected youth in those days – NIN, Godsmack, Kittie, etc. – but I never had any goddamn taste about it, and I certainly never got into the, shall we say, scene. And given the fact that, in hindsight, that particular scene is pretty hostile to women and people of color, I was always glad I dodged that particular bullet.
Weirdly, Eric Lide’s Ozzie the Vampire kind of makes me feel like I might have missed out. Instead of a crowd of stringy-haired white dudes who are also secretly neo-nazis, this comic paints a picture of a metal scene that’s a lot more welcoming of marginalized people, including women, black folks, and homos. If there had been a culture like that around metal when I was growing up, I might actually know who Onslaught and Venom are.
Ozzie Cortozzo is an art student, a vampire and, along with her misanthropic friend Kimmy, a demon hunter. Everyone knows the New Jersey is Hell on Earth, but Ozzie the Vampire takes that to its logical conclusion: the boundaries between the two realms are thin, and demons are free to manifest here and consume human souls! The only thing keeping Gloomburg, NJ from being overrun by the forces of Hell are Ozzie, Kimmy, and the hapless friends and bystanders who inevitably get caught up in the mayhem.
I’m tempted to describe Ozzie as a cross between your favorite shonen manga and a Black Sabbath video, but that doesn’t really do it justice, because it’s also one of the funniest webcomics in current rotation. Kimmy’s scornful wit, Ozzie’s puppy-like ineptitude, Austin’s dorky timidness, and Grimsley’s old-man grumpiness all play off each other in amusing ways. Lide manages to balance real tension with goofy humor, creating a combination that’s hard to put down. Metaphorically I mean. Unless you’re literally holding your computer when you read it I guess.
Lide’s shonen influences are unmistakable, but he knows when to play a trope straight and when to spoof it. Well, maybe “spoof” is the wrong word; the ridiculous escalation of things in action manga is generally pretty hilarious as it is – Lide is just deliberate about it.
Much of the story revolves around typical demonic/eldritch horror themes: foolish mortals tampering with things beyond their ken, supernaturally binding contracts, arcane hierarchies of otherworldly beings, etc. But because this is a shonen comedy, no matter how much stupid shit our heroes do, they always manage to pull through – either through the power of friendship and/or fighting spirit, or just through obliviousness and luck. This dynamic makes the horror-ish elements themselves comedic, like when the gargantuan, ball-gagged demon Master Leonard is defeated by people mocking his name.
The obvious question remains: “Does it get gay?” Well, not really yet, other than the reveal at the end of chapter 1 that record store cashier Nora is gay. But the fact that Nora, a relatively minor character, placed third in a character popularity poll (after Ozzie and Kimmy) seems to indicate to me that everyone else who reads this comic is waiting for it to get gay too.
Ozzie’s a pretty good protagonist, too. She’s new to the whole vampire thing, so while she commands immense power and has been enlisted by the ancient and sentient demon-sealing tome Grimsley to defend humanity, her identity is still more defined by being a metalhead slacker art student nerd. It actually seems like she’s not that into defending humans in general, and has so far only been seen fighting demons that attack her or her friends first. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Kimmy sticks around with her. We’ve had some teasing backstory references dangled in front of us – like the identity of the demon who turned Ozzie – so here’s hoping that the future chapters lead to a deeper understanding of her and her relationships.
Final verdict: Ozzie the Vampire should appeal to a lot of audiences: horror fans, metal fans, people who enjoy jokes, people who like seeing things get punched and explode. Check it out imo!