Six years ago, it would have seemed ridiculous to imagine Moriah “Poppy” Pereira signing to Sumerian Records playing industrial-tinged metalcore and nu metal. To this day, the Poppy persona remains the embodiment of the uncanny valley, a bridge between reality and memetic befuddlement. Pereira’s relationship with absurdist performance art explains how her second graphic novel retains an autobiographical undercurrent, though it starts with Poppy waking up in hell.

Co-written with Ryan Cady (The X-Files and MAGDALENA), Damnation: Poppy’s Inferno ties into Pereira’s experiences with the dark side of the music industry in the most unexpected ways. With solid illustration, a compelling framed narrative and a potent emotional through line, this is the best way for Pereira to offer a peek into her past few years.

The framed narrative of this graphic novel weaves together Poppy’s travels through the seven circles of hell to find Lucifer, and her experiences as the new product of a big record label. The latter has an eerie similarity to the public statements Pereira made last December about her former collaborator Titanic Sinclair.

Poppy’s struggle to maintain her sense of self carries emotional weight, whether it’s label consultants or the Devil himself attempting to change her for the worse. There’s even a noticeable allusion to Sinclair’s treatment of his previous accomplice Mars Argo. Through a dramatized fight sequence, Pereira offers insight into how she was manipulated into helping Sinclair damage the reputation of his former protégé when she filed a lawsuit against him for stealing her songs.

The scenery switches aren’t jarring, as the majority of the chapter’s focus on either hell or the realm of the living. The imaginative, dark fantasy of Poppy in Hell gives artists Amilcar Pinna (Age of Ultron, Astonishing X-Men) and Zoe Thorogood (The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott) more room to flex their artistic chops. The monsters Poppy encounters in Hell pop off the page with creative, frightful designs, but minute details remain reserved for facial closeups.

Poppy’s emotions take center stage, whether she’s in a relatable interpersonal conflict or battling through Pandemonium. Poppy’s uncanny innocence is maintained as well, playing into the character’s reputation as a blissfully weird kawaii robot. For all the immensely satisfying frames of her ripping hellbeasts limb from limb, the story remains fixed on Poppy’s war within herself.

Pereira and Candy make reference to Poppy’s beginning as an internet personality without resorting to heavy-handed inside jokes. One particularly meta sequence finds her running into a gaggle of her old fans, echoing the all-to-real transitional nightmare of many a YouTuber-turned musician. Similarly, the metaphorical elements of Poppy’s Inferno translate naturally and powerfully, with clever plays on words showing parallels between the two worlds on display.

As the hierarchies of Hell try to give Poppy a bloodlust for tormenting damned souls, so does the corporate label system try to make her a ruthless industry plant. In this way, the book becomes a cutting commentary on how the media brings out the worst in people. Poppy’s decision to stand her ground translates to Pereira’s refusal to compromise her art and values now that her music has started to catch on.

In fact, the crux of this whole story allows Pereira to be more vulnerable than it might seem on first read. Poppy’s moment of clarity about who she is and who she wants not only answers how she ended up in Hell, but shows Pereira’s healthy perspective on the time she spent as a cog in the music industry. This effectively bridges the gap between the two narratives, as Poppy simultaneously declares herself empress of her personal Hell and the underworld itself.

The lead up to this climax is as exciting as it is empathetic, giving fans old and new something to enjoy while also succeeding as a solid addition to the annals of independent comics. It’s not every day a character works within memes, music and comic books to comparable success, and Damnation: Poppy’s Inferno once again proves the versatility of Pereira’s brainchild.

It’s not every day a character works within memes, music and comic books to comparable success, and this proves the versatility of Moriah Pereira’s brainchild.
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Fantastical Autobiography
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