For many fans (myself included), metal music is more than just an aggressive and complex form of entertainment; it’s a complete existence brimming with self-reflective illumination, interpersonal significance, and anti-establishment vitality. That said, its inherently over-the-top nature makes it ripe for affectionately piercing satire. Enter Belzebubs, graphic artist JP Ahonen’s “‘trve kvlt [true cult] documentary’ in comic strip form” that explores “the everyday challenges of family life: raising kids, getting your black metal band off the ground, summing demons, you know how it is.” Having already established himself as a master of charming pop culture parody with slice-of-life works like Perkeros (Sing No Evil) and the Villimpi Pohjola series, it’s no shock that the Belzebubs collection excels at fusing a mockery of black metal ethos with a send-up of realistic domesticity, adolescence, and professional aspirations. (The fact that Ahonen actually turned Belzebubs into a real act on Century Media Records—like how Metalocalypse’s Dethklok has been releasing legitimate albums for over a decade—only adds to the authenticity and amusement.)
On the surface, Ahonen’s visuals are immediately and consistently engaging and varied. While certainly not lifelike, there is enough nuance here to easily recognize each character via certain clear—and often funny—identifiers in the midst of continuously being decorated in vastly similar make-up (as is the norm for subgenre enthusiasts). For instance, teenager daughter Lilith’s nervous, braces-filled smiles laughably contrast her overtly satanic aesthetic. Likewise, her mother, Lucyfer’s, clothing and hair styles (often a mix sexy wife and pragmatic stay-at-home parent) ingeniously juxtapose her dedication to all things macabre. Beyond that, Ahonen’s panels are commonly filled with insider easter eggs (like the cover of Steven Wilson’s The Raven that Refused to Sing) and sight gags that further meld the main clan’s compromises between traditional home experiences and occult devotions (such as younger brother Leviathan drawing pentagrams on the wall with crayons as a baby, as well as the grandmother—decked out in white and black face paint, too—setting a plate for her decaying husband at the dinner table).
Of course, the look of Belzebubs is only half of the equation; Ahonen’s writing must also nail its goals, and fortunately, it does without fail. For one thing, every person—including the father’s bandmates—feels sufficiently three-dimensional and linked to one another, often struggling with humane hardships like vanity, self-actualization, and the intricacies of romantic relationships with relatable honesty. Similarly, the multiple plot threads—including reinvigorating married life with a literal trip to hell, dealing with a high school crush, and succeeding as professional musicians—are effectively and endearingly developed. That’s not to say that it’s outright novelistic, but Ahonen accomplishes a surprising level of sincere depth (especially in how the tale wraps up) without ever losing sight of the main attraction: lovingly ridiculing the subculture. To that point, the book is usually downright hilarious when it comes to what the characters think and say to each other and to the reader (via pseudo interview sessions). Thus, there is rarely a frame in which the script doesn’t connect with the audience in some way.
Like his previous endeavors—as well as comparably sardonic music/graphic storytelling fusions, like Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever by Igloo Tornado—Belzebubs is cleverly comedic from start to finish. It more or less pokes fun at its protagonists’ various ways of life in equal measure, combining delightfully detailed and wide-ranging art styles with writing that, more often than not, is heartfelt and humorous at once. As such, it’s a must-read for comic fans and black metal aficionados alike, and a comprehensive update on the world of Belzebubs can’t come soon enough.