Printed Perversions: James Callahan’s ‘Rotting in Dirtville’
There are some coming-of-age stories that have real heart. Then, there are those that rip the heart right out of your rib-cage and serve it to you with a side of alien invasions and techno-organic zombies for good measure. ROTTING IN DIRTVILLE is most certainly the latter, though reknowned underground artist James Callahan‘s script does an ample job of crafting characters you can care about – whether you’re meant to feel pity for them or hate their guts.
A monstrously good mash-up of a Liquid Television short and Return of the Living Dead, the story kicks off by introducing our morose protagonist, Milton, still in a state of shock from the loss of his family and home due to an unexplained “natural disaster.” We’re also introduced to Milton’s neighbors, the sweet-natured Betsy and her obnoxious brother Russel whose vocabulary includes “Smell ya later” “Chillin” and “Barforama.” He’d be make a pretty cool strange kid… if he wasn’t such a girl-beating prick.
Meanwhile, through the magic of television, we learn that giant robots have been reportedly attacking cities all across the world. It doesn’t take long for these incidents to fall upon the residents of “Dirtville” in the most gruesome ways possible including dismemberment, disembowelment and evisceration (to name a few). Before long, familiar faces become mechanized distortions worthy of Cronenberg (Naked Lunch, The Fly) or Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man) and Milton (along with Betsy) find themselves standing alone against the horde of shambling, vomit-spewing husks.
While Callahan ends the story with zombie-smashing, splatter-worthy panache Milton’s tale feels unfinished. To the point, Callahan seems to intentionally leave the story open-ended, making the reader draw their own conclusions or perhaps keeping things open for a sequel (let’s hope so!). In the end, Rotting in Dirtville is a rowdy B-movie horror romp that packs tons of gore and great story-telling into one perfect bound book.