Review: Sancho – The Death & Life of José Maria Garcia

A thing I do remember about my first exposure to the Sancho series was that I found it back in 2005 – I’d already gotten my art printed in a comics anthology called Havoc 21, and I’d gotten my first taste of comic book conventions, from small dealer halls to Eirtakon’s earlier starts on its original grounds of Dublin City University. In Wynn’s Hotel, the Dublin Comic and Toy Mart was being held in several function rooms on the premises, and I believe that’s where I first picked up some issues of Sancho, printed by 20,000 Leagues (website link defunct), as well as a couple of anthologies called Small Axe which featured the works of Northern Irish creators. While Small Axe has somewhat dropped off the radar since – SA creators, please get in touch! – Sancho finally earned a now rare collection of all five of its issues.

From the outset, Sancho had the creative chops to mix horror with dark comedy, and the series does NOT disappoint, with Ian Whelan and Alan Nolan providing very crisp script and art duties. José Maria Garcia aka ‘Sancho’ is a Mexican priest turned  top exorcist after leaving his post, and with his sidekick Tom Frost (a tiny but sardonic elemental fairy) they solve supernatural problems and bizarre occurrences around the world, from zombie invasions to vampires to an old recurring nemesis from Sancho’s past. The collection opens with the sudden death of one of Sancho’s former friends from Victory (a special exorcism unit consisting of Catholic priests), and Sancho is reunited with another Victory member, Willy O’Malley, who was left blind after a past exorcism.

Source: http://irishcomics.wikia.com/wiki/Sancho

Source: http://irishcomics.wikia.com/wiki/Sancho

 

When they discover their friend’s corpse has been defiled, they’re quickly on the case, and after summoning  Tom the Elemental after so many years (whose ceremony requires flushing of toilets and running tap water) they find a lead which ends up being intertwined with Sancho’s very existence. The rest of the books chapters are dedicated to Sancho and Tom’s past-tense adventures, taking them from Dublin to Australia to Japan to Rome, defeating malevolent demons, spirits and famous personalities – in one case, leprechauns being responsible for missing American tourists – with some shorter stories written and illustrated by guest creators.

Sancho as a whole is a tightly rendered adventure, with a cracking and witty script filled with honestly hilarious in-jokes, and brought to life with Nolan’s sharply rendered pen (which these days can be seen in his graphic novel series for O’Brien Press, Murder Can Be Fatal). The comics quickly delve into grotesque (and often deliciously blasphemous) scenarios with Sancho messily kicking literal ass with spells, Catholic rites, and his gun. This is horror/action/mystery done right, and the ending of the book is the perfect but long-awaited lead up to Nolan’s recently announced Sancho comeback, whose details he divulged at this year’s Octocon.

Pity this collection is mostly out of print. Sancho is a great example of comedy which sidesteps completely offending ‘acceptable targets’, and because some stories feature religious figures, Sancho is somewhat careful to return certain archetypes to a neutral/positive light by the end. Father Ted crossed with zombie killing and cheesy dialogue is an apt way to describe Sancho’s sense of humour. There have been ‘humorous’ adult comics created since that don’t do this as well, and would benefit to learn from Sancho‘s example.

Await the new Sancho in 2014 and (politely) demand a reprint of this glorious and under-reported Irish comic.