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King City Paperback – March 20, 2012
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The world Brandon Graham creates is so wholly unique and the "powers" of the main protagonists so odd that you can't help but turn the page just to see what the heck is going to happen. I admit a certain reservation as I started reading. It takes a little while to readjust your suspension of disbelief past the normal level one approaches comics with. However, once the world captures you, you just want to learn more about it. What are the laws? What are the rules? What the hell is everyone doing?
The humor is at times subtle, and often very direct but not in a "here's the joke you laugh now" way. Graham presents weird and awkward situations with panache. A scene early on in the graphic novel has the main character using a cat as a periscope with the eye hole being the, umm, cats bum... Normally I find sophomoric attempts like this stale at best, and plain stupid. But there's something about the presentation, the drawings, the situation leading up, the world itself where I couldn't help but laugh.
Graham has created something simultaneously new, irreverent, and intriguing.
The ending of King City felt a little too open ended, but it left me wanting more, and that as far as I'm concerned is a sign of a good tale.
I've been reading the quality comic books by him and his friends since I found out about him. Prophet is another great comic by Brandon. His wife Marian does great comics too like Elephant Men, and his buddy James Stokoe does Orc Stain.
The book itself is his Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, it's his breakout work. The story is damn good, the art is damn good. He even had his graffiti artist friends do graffiti for the walls of his fictional metropolis. I love all the different characters, monsters, aliens, robots in this book. I love how Brandon makes little maps and shows you what's in the pockets of his characters' clothes. The topics they cover and hint upon are unique, fresh, and interesting.
If you could compare the comic book industry to the movie industry, Brandon does not make corporate bullcrap, but his stuff is really good and worth a look. I like to think of him in much the same vein as Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez.
Check out his book Multiple Warheads as well if you like this book, it is very similar.
It's hard to summarize the plot, not because it it's all that hard to explain, but rather because the plot is really secondary to the wonderfully chaotic city it's set in, the surprisingly well-developed characters and the ever-present puns and word play.
A very short summary is Joe is a catmaster robbing, stealing and grifting his way through King City, a chaotic future city where aliens, mutants, zombie war vets and ninjas share the streets.
But as I said, the plot is almost beside the point, this is a book whose real strength is in the characters and setting. Writer-artist Brandon Graham gives each page more love and attention than some artists give a whole book. They are jam-packed with details, in-jokes, puns and flair. This is a book you have to reread just to catch all the subtle things you missed the first time.
Despite the surreal setting the characters are well-grounded and feel like people you know. Yes, even the guy who uses his cat as a weapon, even Xombie War vet, all of them have strong realistic personalities. Graham's style is a bit cartoony but all of the characters look distinct and realistic. The only one close that I can think of is Katsuhiro (Akira) Otomo, Graham's King City at times feels like Otomo's Mega Tokyo on acid.
This is really a delightful book and at just $20 a total steal. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for something new and cool in American comics.
His art is a weird blend of styles: graffiti, manga, erotica all get mashed together, but it fits his insane writing. The plot revolves around some guys who are thieves doing jobs for criminal organizations but also trying to do their own thing and feeling at least a bit of responsibility towards justice. There are destructive drugs doing harm to their friends and after-effects of a zombie war, and monsters that may or may not be growing in power to take over the city and the world. Most of all there is a super-powered cat who can do almost anything when injected with the right hormones and thrown in the right direction. ("Hot bucket of cat!!")
Obviously that synopsis made no sense, and a significant fraction of the book doesn't either, but if that style of insanity sounds appealing, this is definitely a book to get. It's a crazy enjoyable read, and I was cracking up at so many little visual jokes and one-liners that I'm sure I'll have to go back and re-read it a bunch of times to get every detail.
Brandon Graham is clearly insane, but also clearly a genius.