This article was originally published in 2007 at sequart.com
The very first story in the first chapter of the book, "A New Place To Lay", acts as a sort of shot across the bow of the reader's sensibilities. It begins with two young boys holding up a pet cat with a look of glee on their faces, only to force him into the microwave for a clearly-calculated experiment ("press Defrost, then 30") that leads to an ever-escalating series of horrific but hilarious events. The eventual gag, which lands the dead cat on the dinner table in front of them as an object lesson to their sister from their parents (who mistook the cat for a miscarriage found in the toilet), brilliantly establishes a nightmarish but logically consistent world. It's an unnerving, disturbing world, yet one that is rooted in the familiar. Its impact is unquestionably visceral, where the reader is simultaneously horrified and yet can't help laughing.
Reading Espey's work is unusual because while so much of what he does is the mark of a true original, it's interesting to compare his work to artists who share some of his sensibilities. There's a trace of Mike Diana's graphic and gruesome black and white simplicity, but Espey's ideas are more sophisticated and his imagery more playful & clever. There's an element of Jim Woodring's nightmare logic and stark beauty in the world he creates along with the sense of the absurd and sifting through cultural detritus that we find in Gary Panter. Like the work of both of those artists, Wormdye demands that the reader engage this world on its own terms or not at all. We can also see elements from Henriette Valium's manic imagery and dissatisfaction with modernity and the same kind of obsessiveness Al Columbia has with children and the truly disturbing quality of fairy tales (where horrible things happen to children, often as a sort of object lesson). Lastly, Espey possesses Rory Hayes' ability to immerse the reader in a nightmarish, singular vision of warped innocence, crazed imagery and shocking but funny violence. If I'm a bit all over the place here in my comparisons, it's because Espey's work defies easy analysis.
"Corrupt Seed" builds on myths and fairy tales, weaving in elements of the stories of Prometheus, Pandora and Little Red Riding Hood in a modern tableau, recast as a sort of voyeuristic fantasy. The way that stories are told--on elaborately-designed vases in the past and on TV now--is a key element to how we spy on the world, creating our own fantasies. Some of the chapters eschew standard narrative, instead using stacked images to tell instead build its commentary. "Cremation of Care" constructs its pages to comment on the fetishization of violence and war, combining the image of the factory of war with that of the altar of ritualistic, religious sacrifice. "Giants In Heat" touches on similar subjects, almost looking like they could be models for stained glass paintings in some demented church.
The last story in the book, "Blood Is The Cow", recapitulates the first story as the two boys we met in the first story once again turn an act of curiousity (cutting off a cow's udder so as to get the milk out faster) results in unexpected carnage. They themselves once again manage to avoid detection and punishment, but this time that violence is visited upon them in unexpected ways. The story then warps into conspiracy theories, secret corn-centered societies, aliens and yet more ritual sacrifice. Regurgitation is a key element of this story, representing both the vain attempt to revive ones' own vitality as well as the possibility of rebirth and regeneration. This book is a stunning debut of a fully-formed talent, one whose evolution is difficult to predict but will be fascinating to watch.