In early 2018, the world was introduced to Ice Cream Man, written by W. Maxwell Prince with beautiful art by Martin Morazzo. The series is a horror anthology that is quickly approaching its 30th issue. it’s also one of my favorite comic books in general, so indulge me in gushing a bit.
Ice Cream Man as a horror anthology began with simple horror stories set in a small town centering around a man with a wicked smile and has since steadily evolved into a very experimental horror series where each issue has a gimmick that pushes the boundaries of comics as a medium.
One issue you may be dealing with the story of a boy living with a venomous pet spider, another you will be experiencing a parody of Watchmen, and in yet another you will be reading an experimental palindrome issue where the front half and the back half of the comic can be read in any order. The lack of consistency is in of itself a consistency of the series that I love; I never know what I’m getting into each issue.
These concepts make the writing stand out and then are elevated by Morazzo’s beautiful artwork. Each panel of the series finds that great middle ground between terrifying and captivating to look at. For many of the more bizarre moments of the series, the art style will change to match, and it’s a sight to behold.
And when the series is trying to be funny, the art is a great pairing for that too. Like many horror anthologies, Ice Cream Man delves into the realm of black comedy a lot of the time, since we as the reader often go into issues expecting many people to die it will occasionally wind and ask us to laugh along with its monstrous title character.
But what is Ice Cream Man about? I joke around with people who ask, saying it isn’t about anything, but there are distinct themes in the series. They just aren’t apparent immediately. With an apparent end to the series coming soon, I may as well try to explain my interpretation of them.
Let’s start with the titular Ice Cream Man himself: Riccardus. Riccardus is a nihilist, having been alive for what is implied to be thousands of years, and having lived through many worlds, he doesn’t see the value in anything. Everything is an insignificant bug to him, whether it be people, societal norms, or even the concept of language. But despite all of this, how does he act?
He’s full of life, joyful, narcissistic. Absolutely nothing matters to him, but he couldn’t be happier. He’s contempt with torturing people in world after world before moving on to the next. He’s as evil as you can get, but as a reader, it’s hard not to love watching him as he loves what he does.
In contrast to the Ice Cream Man, we have his brother Caleb. Caleb isn’t a nihilist; he does think the small things in life matter. Whereas Riccardus is the type of man to butcher animals for the fun of it, Caleb is the type of man to find joy in playing with a dog. Life matters to him, small problems do matter, “Everything is one thing” and he isn’t willing to listen to any of Riccardus’ crap about everything being worthless.
On multiple occasions Caleb has directly interfered with the plot of an issue to save someone, but even when he doesn’t interfere himself people are saved just by following the advice he gives to the reader in 8th issue; to ignore all the bad thoughts in your mind, don’t think of your fellow people as enemies, ignore the nihilism, “That’s just a bad song from an old Ice Cream Truck”
And that advice has saved people on several occasions even if they never met or heard Caleb. In one issue, a woman nearly shoots her husband and some teens because of paranoia, but as he comes to realize that there isn’t any real threat from strangers, no one dies in this issue.
One of the most captivating things about the series nowadays is how I’m always on the edge of my seat, wondering what will happen to each issue’s protagonist. Most of the time they end up either dead or having to face a fate worse than death, but there are plenty of times where the protagonist of the issue not only survives but has a new ray of hope in their life after they follow this advice that was given to the reader, becoming living examples of it.
Even an issue of the series that I rolled my eyes at conceptually (one where the Ice Cream Man was an evil Superman parody) followed these themes. Ignoring the idea that all people may be our enemies and believing that a better day can come from working together is the way forward
The series appears to be coming to a conclusion soon as it has been building up a great trial for the Ice Cream Man, but how a strange and experimental story like this can conclude is beyond me. The final trial is approaching, and soon, we will know the fate of Riccardus, the demon god with the ice cream smile.