Meet the Tap Dance Killer – you read that right, the Tap Dance Killer. She is Nikki St. Clair, a Cleveland-based actress-singer-dancer who has taken her current role far from the stage and into the organized crime community.
Writer Ted Sikora introduces us to Nikki, who was starring in a musical called, Nothing But Vaudeville, when her role became much more realistic. She was playing the Tap Dance Killer, alongside Vincent Reed as the crime lord, Sir Terror, and Klaus Mirogold as the dead-animating wax museum curator, Fletcher. Rehearsals were running as scheduled until a woman claiming to be from the play’s publisher gives Nikki and her costars a potent cocktail, and now they have become their characters.
Flashforward a few months and they are now the Vaude-Villains. Punchline and Uzi, a pair of clowns who serve as the muscle and weapons specialist, are added to the team, along with Klaus’ spectacularly failed experiment, Lizzy. Led by Vincent, or Sir Terror, they make their presence known as a new crime power by taking on an infamous mob family. As Nikki becomes the focus of one criminal’s intense hatred, the Vaude-Villains continue establishing their new reputation with violence and (sort of) planned heists.
Tap Dance Killer is about that show biz. It’s a street-level crime story that plays out like a stage production. Out in public or on the job, Nikki gets to portray different characters as she dodges the cops and tries to get information from unsuspecting marks. The book also has some tragic twists worthy of the theater that adds layers, and even sympathy, to the characters. Despite their adoption of criminality, Sikora has written likeable lead characters who are fun to watch and can even be relatable.
The art in this book nails the concept. Led by Donny Hadiwidjaja (also credited as Nikolaus Harrison) with inker Chis Arieswendha and Sikora on colors, the vaudevillian motif comes through on nearly every page. The costumes and makeup produce energy and create a fresh look not found in other comics. In the appropriate situations, they also inspire fear and foreboding. The characters are clearly expressive, and the backgrounds are fleshed out. There’s plenty of variety in the panel layouts, breaking structure once or twice to add pizazz and style.
Tap Dance Killer is also completely bonkers. It’s about actors who’ve gone full method, with the help of some chemicals, to become gangsters. Their marks are warned of oncoming doom by the tip tap of Nikki’s dancing shoes and if that weren’t enough, she sings while cracking people in the head with her cane. This book uses some of the energy and style of Chicago (think “Cell Block Tango”) with a dash of the horror and sharp edges of Repo! The Genetic Opera.
Tap Dance Killer is now on Kickstarter in a campaign to collect issues 1-5 into trade paperback or hardcover format. There are several rewards levels, even some a la carte options, for copies of the book in print and digital, key issues or trades of Apama (another gem by Sikora), t-shirt, pins, magnets, even CGC-graded copies of the first issue.