A friend who is as much into comics as your favourite columnist is wasn’t impressed with the must-have listing that appeared in this magazine.
He accused me of:
1. Catering to the masses by putting in Maus.
2. Pretending to be more intelligent than I was by including David Boring.
3. Ignoring one of the finest non-superhero comics by leaving out Transmetropolitan.
“As a journalist yourself, I thought you’d like Spider Jerusalem,” he said.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, Spider Jerusalem is the gonzo journalist who is the lead character of Transmetropolitan, a long-running series that ended sometime in 2002. Some people believe that Jerusalem is modelled on Hunter S. Thompson; others claim that he is actually an alter-ego of the series’ creator, Warren Ellis. The truth could be, as it usually is in such cases, halfway between the two. For the record, I do like Warren Ellis because:
Comic control: A complete story in one book.
1. He is just marginally older than your columnist, which puts him on the right side of 40.
2. He has done some outstanding work on Hellblazer, which he authored for some time.
3. He created an entire series around a journalist.
The reason I did not put in any work by Ellis in the must-have listing was because I considered much of his work self-indulgent (I am aware of the irony of this statement because I have often been told that CF is a very self-indulgent column). There’s just too much of Ellis, and his view of the world in Transmetropolitan and that spoils it.
If this writer were to redo the must-have listing, however, Ellis would feature in it for a new work, Fell, Feral City.
Fell is a good old-fashioned detective book, but there’s more to it than just the comic itself.
For one, Fell is an experiment by Ellis to create an inexpensive comic book. His way of doing this is by telling a story that would have otherwise taken, say X pages, in X-Y pages. He does this by following a strict nine-panel grid on every page. Now, comics writers are notoriously profligate with panels. Some use two to three panels a page, sometimes even just one. Again, for the benefit of those who do not know much about comics, it is usually the writer who decides the number of panels and their sequencing, not the illustrator (Fell is illustrated by Ben Templesmith).
By using this grid, and by trying to ensure that each issue contains one complete story (again, comics writers love to stretch a story across multiple issues, which is fine for people like me who usually read trade paperbacks that combine several issues, but not so good for those who buy their comics every week—actually, this writer would love to do so too; only the weekly issues aren’t usually available in India, at least not in the same week or even month), Ellis has done something no one has tried before. The result is a smaller, tighter comic book.
The fall: A straight cop gone wrong.
Now, layer this delivery mechanism over with a noir plot line that seems made for it.
Fell is the story of a straight cop, Richard Fell, who has done some unspeakable-of-as-yet damage in the city and is banished to a smaller satellite city, Snowtown, across the bridge. There’s something wrong with this city, as there usually is with those hard cops get exiled to. Residents have taken to spraying crossed Ss (the symbol of Snowtown) on their walls in the belief that the city’s resident evil will not take what is branded its own.
Early in the book, Mayko, a Vietnamese woman who owns a bar, brands Fell with the symbol when he is drunk and she is high on painkillers (what do you expect? After this kind of foreplay, they can’t help but become good friends). Ellis bestows Fell with Sherlock Holmes’ deductive abilities and Sam Spade’s hardness.
Apart from Mayko, Fell is filled with interesting characters including a nun who wears a Richard Nixon mask. And Templesmith’s hazy illustrations heighten the noir appeal of the book.
The short stories (remember, my trade paperback was a collection of six issues and had around six stories), far from taking anything away from the plot, actually add to it.
It’s still early—only one volume of Fell is out—but this writer’s sense is that Ellis has finally arrived.
Write to Sukumar at firstname.lastname@example.org