Military Observer

Recommended for your consideration, may we mention Dead Watch issues 1 and 2 by British-Russian designer Natasha Denezhkina Campbell. In this series (started in 2022), she proposes a fictional account of a very hot topic – the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Her idea has been to recast it as vampire fiction, portraying The Enemy as a cabal of evil blood-sucking monsters. Well, this kind of theme has a long tradition – in music, I usually reach for ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath for a lurid portrait of war-mongering generals expressed as “witches at black masses”, a picture which still holds true (even if just about all of Ozzy Osborne’s lyrics had the exact same supernatural / satanic outlook). Readers of literature-type tomes might nominate They Used Dark Forces, the Dennis Wheatley alternative-history of Nazi Germany, with elements of science fiction mixed into its devil-worshipping story which still resonates with fans ever since it first appeared in 1964. However, Denezhkina is busy tapping into a whole vampire subculture, not just with this comic but her other fanzines, picture books and collaborations, including her series of Dracula Zines, and her 2021 Dear Anon piece, which “splices the stereotypes we hold currently about Eastern Europe with a text that embodies the negative stereotypes held about Eastern Europe in Victorian society.”

Dead Watch might just be her attempt to extend her concepts – a lot of her other art does suggest to me some quite interesting conceptual art-type methods – into the form of the comic strip. She tells me she never drew a comic strip before and even expressed a little uncertainty as to whether she was succeeding or not. Yet she has come up with something quite powerful and affecting, in my view. I like the way she keeps her panels simple and uncluttered, and there isn’t too much text getting in the way (notwithstanding the odd lapses into half-page essays). The drawings seem very direct to me; I’m not looking for technical expertise or showy graphics, and I like the way the figures, faces, and background land on the page; more often than not, the framing is just right, resulting in maximal impact. The story-telling is brisk, fast-paced, and economical.She makes use of simple, repeated motifs – a disembodied talking mouth, an ominous clock, figures isolated under spotlights – to create compelling rhythms. It seems that Natasha Denezhkina Campbell has got to this point not by digesting the complete works of Jack Kirby, but through her own instincts, sheer effort, and a will to carry on stating these themes that evidently mean a lot to her. As such, I’d always personally prefer to read the work of a self-taught comics creator who has something of their own to say, than one who slavishly copies existing mainstream comic book styles. Denezhkina also explains she gave herself a leg-up by reading and repurposing headlines about the Ukraine conflict in the Guardian newspaper, of which there’s been no shortage since Feb 2022; it is my guess that, through the process of her art, these journalistic fragments have been remade into powerful sentences that support, and carry her story.

I’d better own up at this point and say I’m basing all this on a cursory skim of Dead Watch #1 at the Pushkin House zine fair on 1st June 2024, but something vital and original came off the pages almost instantly, including one memorable and strange image of a crucifix sinking to the bottom of the ocean. (That may be in issue #2 come to think of it). But I followed up by finding her website, and well, here we are. I think Denezhkina would like to take part in any comics workshops or round table discussions in London, especially events with a political dimension; all those reading, please make suggestions.

Leave a Reply