REVIEW: Nightlife Noir 1 & 2 Shed a Light on the Shadows

Nightlife Noir 1&2 from Jack Mulqueen

Do you ever think about the darker side of nightlife? It’s an entire world that only a tiny fraction of the population get a glimpse of and will vary city by city. But the stories told in these small hours are often the most fascinating. The bar staff, the service workers, the shadowy figures that linger on the streets — what they see, the small details of their lives, and the events they witness on a nightly basis. 

Nightlife Noir was created by Jack Mulqueen, a nightlife developer based in New York City whose short stories with six different artists read as vignettes into the darker side of city life in the small hours of the morning. While some of these tales may seem familiar — Mulqueen is the first to admit some of his stories are based on archetypal personalities and read as hyperbolic tales — the stories push past cliché into something that feels exciting and refreshing.

Nightlife Noir 1 & 2

Jack Mulqueen (writer), Raymond Estrada, Abylay Kussainov, Alfredo Torres, Andrey Garin, Dillon Snook, and Marc Garreta (artists), Alex Batlle (colorist),  Manny Mederos (Letterer/Designer), Daniela Bensadoun (editor), Ellis Green (art designer), Kenneth Vandoverbeke (logo), Adam Gorham (cover)
Self-Published
August 7, 2021

Nightlife Noir 1&2 from Jack Mulqueen
Nightlife Noir 1&2 from Jack Mulqueen. Cover Art by Adam Gorham

Written during lockdown as bars shuttered, Mulqueen’s stories overlap with thematic similarities and are almost cinematic in their visualisation. The longing for nightlife is palpable, and noir is the perfect genre for these often very dark stories about the hidden sides of city nightlife. These include staff and club workers mistreated by security, secret illicit love stories, abuses of power, endless nights that begin at 4 am and often a tragic, inescapable sadness. The nighttime holds all manner of secrets and shady goings-on, while the feverish pencil strokes of the art provide this urgency and often anxiety. 

All of the artwork is incredible. Raymond Estrada, Abylay Kussainov, Alfredo Torres, Andrey Garin, Dillon Snook, and Marc Garreta, as well as colorist Alex Batlle and letterer/designer Manny Mederos, have done incredible work, while the covers by Adam Gorham really evoke the spirit of the series hinting at the various characters the reader will encounter, their very different lives, and how nightlife functions as another world entirely.

The first story of the series ‘Remoras.’ with its faded shades and hazy hues, feels like you are peering into something secretive and illicit, which is exactly the intention of the story. The reader feels like they are peering through a fence, or shuttered gates, into this story of forbidden love, which is secretively, devastatingly, presented before our eyes. ‘Sunday Mofongo,’ the second tale, is a darkly poetic effective short story while also functioning as a visually cinematic example of film noir, as Abylay Kussainov’s artwork and Alex Batlle’s colours lead us into Mijo’s life as a service worker who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is one of the most impactful of the series.

Nightlife Noir 1&2 from Jack Mulqueen, 'Queen of the Castle' art by Dillon Snook, letterer/design by Manny Manderos
Nightlife Noir 2 from Jack Mulqueen, ‘Queen of the Castle’ art by Dillon Snook, letterer/design by Manny Mederos

This is not to say all the stories of Nightlife Noir are dark. There is a manic feverish quality to “The ‘Life Of The Party'” in #1 with Alfredo Torres’ multicolored panels functioning to illustrate every facade of Trisha’s unhinged madness culminating in her hilarious acid green mania. The story is a reworking of something we all know too well, of pride coming before a fall, and this takes place both in the narrative and, most effectively, in a full-page illustration. Trisha’s wide green eyes, the exact same shade as the ‘elixir’ she is so keen to dispense, telling all we need to know about her character, state of mind, and fate. As Mulqueen writes in his post story notes, ‘Alfredo’s art style perfectly complements the subject matter, lulling you into Trisha’s life with comical effect.’ Incidentally, Alfredo has also included a homage to a well-known panel from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s ‘Spider-Man: Blue’ in the final two panels of Trisha’s epic downfall.  

The beauty of this series is its variety. There is also a sweetness to ‘El Disco Erotique’ in #2, which reads like a traditional DJ love story, with the most uplifting ending of all the tales. It is also one of the brighter coloured of the six, with Andrey Garin’s expressive artwork functioning as the dialogue itself on pages when little or no dialogue is present. I also enjoyed the dark love story ‘Queen of the Castle’ as an ode to the nightlife and routine of bar workers, whose concept of time is very different from the majority of society. It’s a deliciously surreal story of repetition, love, and the splintering of reality. Dillon Snook’s artwork, like the character’s lives, relies on repetition, utilised fully on the page and in the panel’s negative spaces, while his use of purples, oranges, greens and blues all provide the illusion of street lamps, bar signs, neon lights omitting from rooms only open when everyone else in the city is sleeping. In one incredibly cool page we ‘see’ how time is bending for these lovers — it looks appears like scattered polaroids, diminishing in size, scattered across the page — like they are the only people on the planet as reality is dropping off. They adhere to a concept of time unique only to themselves.

Nightlife Noir 1 from Jack Mulqueen, 'Remoras'. Art by Raymond Estrada, Letterer/design by Manny Mederos.
Nightlife Noir 1 from Jack Mulqueen, ‘Remoras’. Art by Raymond Estrada, Letterer/design by Manny Mederos.

If, like me, you cannot get enough of film noir and pulpy artwork with a dark, often seedy aesthetic, then you will eat up Nightlife Noir. I loved the first two volumes and hope there will be more. It is a series with so much untapped potential and with so much new talent. I hope it runs and runs.

Nightlife Noir is a an anthology of six short stories from six different artists, centered around New York City’s sceney underbelly. Issues 1 & 2 are available now and the Kickstarter link, if you care to contribute to this project by Sunday August 8, can be found here: 

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jackmulqueen/nightlife-noir-issues-1and2

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