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Brandon Graham’s King City: One of the Best Comics Ever
Steve Aylett has written some comics. I have read them. Yet, I haven’t felt like I read a Steve Aylett comic until I read Brandon Graham’s King City.
You may have not heard of Steve Aylett.
This is a huge compliment.
I LOVE King City, and it ascends to my post-nostalgia top shelf along with such titles as Planetary, Maxx, Seven Soldiers, Morrison’s New X-Men, Skyscrapers of the Midwest, Lemire’s Essex County, Warriors of Plasm, and One Piece. King City, my new shit, the best of my best of 2011 for me, the cream of the crop — the Val Kilmer and Barry Tubb. This is the one comic you need to read if you haven’t yet done so.
King City has everything. What you don’t see is just a page away, invisible, or something Graham just doesn’t think you deserve to see. It’s not like any other book out there and uses the unlimited visual budget uniquely afforded to the medium, an amalgamation of everything awesome: science fiction, ninjas, femme fatales, safe breaking, cannibals, foreign zombie wars, sweet assess, love stories, cats. Yes, cats. AND Cat masters. A step beyond Astro City and just outrunning, and over a chainlink, from Neopolis’ finest, we chiefly follow the exploits of a cat (master) that roles around with an ultimately functional junky organic version of Doraemon, that in a previous life bitch slapped and robbed Inspector Gadget, ransacked Fleming’s Q-branch, and pickpocketed every Rob Liefeld pouch for all their secrets.
King City would no doubt have appeared, read and appreciated, at and among other Fantastic Metropolis‘, along with other chatter of the titans of speculative fiction. I’m not sure if it’s cliche in comics commentary, where world building is something I tend to find as absent as worthwhile reviews, but in my first vocation as a SF/F novel genrelist, the idea of the setting – be it a block, city, country, world, or galaxies – becoming a character is often evoked as a matter of prefunctional form. Graham’s characters conduct and absorb amazing circumstances in a world that is beautifully not fully realized because the very act of doing doing so would make it false. We are there and the amazing occurs quite liberally, but panels and pages reveal a world that’s populated with a myriad of adventures. We just aren’t in on them yet. Remember the worst day of your life? The world didn’t skip a beat. Our own paths always seem central, most relevant, and though we do look around at our unimmediate surroundings, and even at times consider them, to consider ourselves masters beyond our own domain would feel false. Not to mention boring. The backdrop of the stories Graham tells feel as if they contain hundreds of other plots also occurring around us, so much so they aren’t truly plots. They cannot be, plots largely have a finite destination, a plan. Some may even be grander than the one we are focused on, and some may just be people watching us, perhaps cracking on our ill-fashioned kicks. We don’t truly know, but Graham makes us feel their gaze. The denizens of King City are not his or our audience.
We are theirs.
King City, as alive as Bas-lag or Ambergris, a potential surprise around every corner, however, has emotional grounds. Love stories are told in every medium and are done effectively and is something that creators have been able to grasp and sell for centuries. Graham is no different, but he also grasps primal, and able to simulate and stimulate nearness, be it if you are up in the guts of a fling or an unknown distance from a love. No better example is the visual execution of the pressure exerted into a room – and space and time – when in the proximity of a stranger’s exceptional and too legit badonkadonk, that Graham perfectly knows, has felt, and shares. What this ability does is allow for contrast of levels of relationships, without diminishing the stature of either. Lust never makes you question his love. Both are real, one is not the symptoms of a failure of the reality of the other.
In King City you are equally like to run into Sardo Numspa as you are Lo Pan, as you are Mademoiselle Marie, as you are some fucked up thing that didn’t make in into a TSR monster manual, as you are some ghastly normal person who has the nerve to not be a character. Yet the genius of King City isn’t that. It’s not a parade. The prize is your belief that it’s all just an every day thang, committed by every day people. Graham take niches and genres but makes a personal work not insular upon reading, creating and bleeding a neo-popular culture in the same way the Fifth Element shouldn’t have been able to.
I mentioned Aylett above, so I want to give him a nod. His most presentable work is probably the very clever novel Lint, but the spontaneity of Graham’s King City reminds me of Aylett’s Beerlight work, composed of The Crime Studio, Slaughtermatic, Atom, and & Novahead, which largely are like what I related above: the story is not contained by prisons of our own making and limited only by the reach of its creator.
Graham has ansible-ranged ninja stars.