Okay, from the top let me just say that I am a) thoroughly uninterested in reading reviews, and even less interested in writing them, except in instances when I really am bowled over by something; b) I have a similar lack of interest in critical deconstruction, plot synopsis, etc. This So, with that out of the way:
I met Sam Hiti a few years ago at the MoCCA festival in Manhattan. Like SPX, MoCCA is an indie show that is jam-packed with a gajillion creators, all hustling their mini-comics, t-shirts, whatever, and perpetually handing out printed bookmarks and postcards advertising their many websites. Sam had recently won a Xeric Grant to publish End Times, although I didn't know any of that. I was just walking by and saw the book on his table--before I knew it, it was open in my hands, and was trying to slurp the drool back into my mouth before it pooled in the open spine.
I think it's semi-important to say that there is a certain fatigue that sets in at a convention. I know for me it does--after a few hours, it's hard to handle the inevitable necessity of disappointing people trying to sell you their books. I mean, that's why they're there, after all; but you can't buy everything, even if it were all really great, which of course it isn't. And so you start avoiding direct eye-contact, which always turns into a proffer of some sort. I can't remember what got me to Sam's table, but after I had the book in my hands, the war was over. I ended up buying not only the book itself, but one of all his minicomics.
End Times is a lot of different things, but maybe the easiest way to describe it is as a Sergio Leone-style spaghetti-western, except without any Italians. The story itself is about some sort of divinely-contracted exorcist, who is sent to a town to rid it of a demonic infestation. After an initial few pages dealing with this assignment, the book becomes a series of gorgeous landscapes, as the viewer is drawn incrementally closer to the town itself. As in the best Western's, the scenery seems to breathe itself, taking on its own character, setting itself up as the ultimate influence on the rest of the story.
Besides the incredible skill on display in these early pages, this is one of the most interesting "formal" parts of the book. Typically, in terms of the "rhythm" of a story, less panels on a page tends to speed up the action, as the reader is absorbing information quickly and turning the page, rather than being immersed into parsing the movement from panel to panel. Manga does this a lot, especially action-oriented mangas like Lone Wolf & Cub--the speed of the action is very much dictated by the number of panels on a page. So if there's a big fight going on, it happens with a panel or two per page, and you zip right through.
But in End Times, in these transition scenes where we as readers are approaching the village, the opposite seems to happen. Though there are a very few panels per page--often just one--for several pages, I find that it's one of the slowest portions of the book for me. Something about these scenes is so well-realized that they becomes incredibly absorbing--it's a testament to Sam Hiti's skill as a cartoonist. It's not that there's so much cross-hatching and detail in the art; in fact, it's the opposite. These panels are so well-composed and executed that you get an accurate picture of the scene that rewards close inspection. You can flit by if you like, but if you pause you'll begin to notice that there are electrical wires strung across canyons, though the only bridge in some places is made of rope. You'll realize that the town is near the coast, possibly on a river, and that the hero is entering late in the day. Most importantly, you'll realize something that I think a lot of creators working in comics forget: that the artist has sufficient skill and acumen to warrant your trust. That here's something done by a craftsman in full command of his craft, and therefore you should follow that craftsman, wherever they might lead. End Times is definitely not the normal kind of comic book, but he's so obviously talented as a cartoonist, that you can't help but read further.
Maybe that's the point I really want to make: Sam Hiti is one tough cartoonist. He seems to be genetically hard-wired for cartooning or something. End Times was published in 2004, and it's easy to see a Paul Pope influence in it. But Sam's work since then has almost thoroughly shed this Pope-itude, and seems to owe more to sheer endless creativity than anything else. His website is a wondrous bewilderment of riches, and I can't tell you how excited I am about his next book, called Death Day, and scheduled for sometime this winter, I think? But best of all is Sam's other baby, the Fistacuffs website, which features cartoonists like Guy Davis, Paul Pope, Kagan MacLeod, and a jillion others competing gladiator-style through cartoons. A new 3-on-3 team tournament is about to start. I've discovered more sweet cartoonists through Fistacuffs in the last year than anywhere else--even if you're just a little interested in indie comics, you'll love Fistacuffs.
Okay, the wrap-up. The most important thing I haven't mentioned is that End Times is TEN FREAKING DOLLARS, which is crazy cheap. When I met Sam at his table, I nearly dropped the book when I saw the price. You can buy them a lot of places, but I'm not sure it's carried through Diamond. We have it in stock, but if you don't live around here (and don't want to just mail order it from us), you can get it straight from Sam. BUT if you do want to buy it from us, I'm including it in my special Project: Romantic deal--if you buy one from us, we'll throw in FREE a copy of Chris Pitzer's awesome Project: Romantic anthology. No gimmick! So for ten bucks you get several hundred pages of greatness!
Sam Hiti's website: http://www.samhiti.com
Sam Hiti's blog: http://www.samhiti.blogspot.com/