This may shock you, but I’m not a comic book guy. Never have been really. There’s no real reason for it, I did read some comics of TV shows I liked when I was young that were in the show’s magazines like Doctor Who, Red Dwarf and Star Trek. But mostly I just wasn’t a comic book person. I couldn’t access them in the same way my friends have. The universes of Marvel and DC were as alien to me on a page as Kale currently is. I could possibly in retrospect put it down to my complete lack of any artistic ability.
I can’t draw. At all. Not above a crude level. But when I was young I could barely write properly, had a very tough time with maths and was creatively impotent… In retrospect I mean. I read though. I read a lot. I absorbed the meanings of things very quickly from fiction and reference books and that has stayed with me in the accumulation of knowledge only befitting relevance to certain pub quiz rounds.
In fact my interest in comics, which probably won’t surprise anyone given the relevance of the past 12 years of cinema, has come from the Alan Moore graphic novels. These also seem to be a part of a lot of reading lists on literature/writing degrees now in relevance to the art of writing, the conversion to cinema, the mystique Moore has around him and his creations; so it’s all been quite convenient.
I know a lot more now about the universes thanks to the popularity of the film and television franchises that have come from Marvel and DC, but 10 years ago I would have been clueless. Which is why I wanted to talk about two comics I have been reading lately.
The first is a comic by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips called “The Fade Out.” It’s a noir thriller that channels the setting of post-war, post-depression Hollywood and the myths and legends around the time and centres them in to a multi faceted whodunit. I ashamedly am not a guy who will sit in a comic shop for long enough to peruse these things so I was caught by seeing it on Comixology. The first issue has a cover of an old typewriter with a water colour blood stain dripping down over it. That obviously captured me.
What caught me after that was the sample that showed the beginning, and the sense of things that play in the mind and haunt you with the scene of the LA Blackouts after Pearl Harbour. It’s something that, if you read the letters at the end of the issues, the writer says was something that stuck with him and enabled him to access the story, the time and the emotions behind it. Given the incredibly complex emotions of guilt and trauma that our most viewed protagonist, screenwriter Charlie Parish, has it’s something that ties him to his current situation. Which is solving a murder of a Hollywood starlet that has been covered up in to a suicide by unknown parties and him trying to recall the events that led to that moment.
It’s incredibly well written and from my experience, noir can be overly pastiched. Especially when you look at the cinematic impact and the written works of Chandler and Hammett in regards to later imitations. But the style and unfolding of so little and the introduction of such a varied and all equally culpable dramatis personae has kept me rivited. Along with the artwork which evokes a great sense of the world of Old Hollywood but also has such a cinematographic eye that the right emotion on a characters face is equally as important as the balance of light in a frame. This isn’t a first for these guys but this is my first experience of their work and I’ve been loving every page of it.
The second is a comic by a man I’ve always respected and admired for his work as a video games critic. Many people will cite Charlie Brooker as a big influence on their writing style and I do too. But I came to Brooker long after he had finished writing for PC Zone. I was a PC Gamer guy and my writer was Kieron Gillen. He has since transcended his work there and for Rock, Paper, Shotgun by becoming a comic book writer, with some great work reinvigorating franchises for Marvel along with Jamie McKelvie. Again this comic isn’t their first independent work but it is the one that I’ve come to first and has gripped me.
The Wicked and The Divine tells of a pantheon. Twelve God-like figures who come in to existence every 90 years (a few generations) and manifest themselves in late-teenage people. But after two years they are gone, sacrificing themselves until the time is upon them again. This time it’s 2014 and their appearance and God-like abilities has become entwined with the rise of popular artists, celebrity culture, underground music scenes, socialites, sub-cultures of fashion and social groups, and cultural youth icons. All fuelled by dedicated fandom in the fiction the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Bowie in the 70s and the modern connectivity/hysteria of the Internet and distanced-reality only inflates these obsessions. The heroine Laura enters a world of illusion, confusion and admiration as a fan of these Gods and becomes a part of something much bigger and deadlier.
Gillen makes no apologies that this is kind of a love letter to his youth and the desire to create art. Gillen, like myself presumably, grew up with the stories of parents and other elders who had seen these immortals that we saw on little screens and on the covers of our families vinyl collections. It inspired our own research and our own dedication to something we had never experienced. When that experience suddenly became open to us, we grasped it and threw ourselves in to it in our selfish search for immortality that we didn’t ever understand. For him I guess it was the golden age of the early 90s through to the end of the decade and beyond. For me it started with the popular punk renaissance of the early 2000’s along with the reappearance of heavy angst driven rock. Something that reflected my utter confusion and inability to know who I was, what I wanted and how the fuck I would ever get such a thing even if I knew what it was. Us lost souls would gravitate to the churches that held these bands and their music would unite all of us, make us whole and allow us to try and order snakebite as soon as we’d seen that someone else had one.
The Wicked and The Divine is colourful, flamboyant, unapologetic and yet shows a latent innocence that any 16-17 has and still does feel. The parables to the UK’s music scene of all generations is clear (along with a few further afield). Everything from Bowie, Bush, Prince and Daft Punk is thrown in to the mix of these modern day underground music pantheon performers, but the story always centres around Laura and her dealings (not literal) with one of the pantheon who goes by the name of Lucifer. A tom girl with all the echoes of Eurythmics-era Annie Lennox but with a mystique that combines that with Patti Smith, Chrissy Hynde, and their 90s equivalents like Kenickie, the presenters of The Girly Show and many other alternative music/youth shows like The Word.
Both of these comics are available on Comixology for the technologically inclined (or those wanting to hide their comic books from prying eyes/judgmental room cleaners) and of course from any good comic book retailer. The Fade Out is coming back this month after their first four issues and The Wicked and The Divine is on their 8th issue this month, with the first five available as a compendium called “The Faust Act”.