Saturday, April 14, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: King City

Every now and then, as a reader, I come across something that is so good it makes me reevaluate every last book/graphic novel/comic on my shelf.  Sometimes I read something extra special and ask myself why have I been wasting my time on inferior creations?  Call these books/comics bar-raisers,  call them game changers, or some other platitude, you know what I'm talking about.  It's those mind-blasting books/comics/whatever that keep me reading and keep me exploring.  I know these types of experiences are supposed to be few and far between, but damn, if I haven't been having them semi frequently lately.  Well, lo' and behold, here comes another one.

King City is quite probably the most wonderful and amazing comic I've ever had the pleasure of reading. I first discovered King City over a year ago when there were still a few copies of the single issues still kicking around at my preferred comic shop.  One look at the art told me I needed to read if just for that aspect alone, but then the shop owner told me that King City is about a regular dude named Joe who is a "catmaster" and can inject his cat with drugs to make it do special things like say, become a gun, or a parachute, or a periscope, or numerous other awesome things.  So, boom, awesome concept to go with awesome art.

Though I gave it a shot, tracking down the individual issues was a tall and expensive order, so I forced myself to be patient and await the eventual release of the graphic novel.  Well, a long year of waiting later and here I am, and I can proudly say that this has been more than worth the wait.

As I already mentioned, King City more than delivers the goods on the art front.  Writer/Artist Brandon Graham is hands down one of the most talented dudes in the industry and has landed with ease and grace onto my "Buy Whatever This Dude Is Making" list.  His pages and panels can be loaded with exquisite detail  hidden gems, great art, and other times they can be sparse with lots of white space that somehow makes everything seem more vast and epic.  No matter what is on the page, it is a visual treat.  Graham isn't afraid to move away from the norms of what you might find on a comic page either.  There's plenty of visual jokes, and mini-games that are a lot of fun and are cool extras that makes this comic extra special.  How often do artists turn a page into a crossword puzzle, or a game of connect the dots or a game board?  Pretty much never, but Graham does all three, and each time they make the reading experience more fun, or provide a cool way of telling the story.  

Though King City is about Joe and his cat, Earthling J.J. Catingsworth the Third, it is kinda sorta a comic about well...nothing.  Sure there's a tentacle-blob thing that threatens the entire world, a dangerous femme-fatale whom Joe lusts after, and his ex-lady who he still has some feelings for, but Joe, by way of Graham's writing, is content to take his time getting around to that big scary plot-monster. Instead Graham gives the readers a sort of anti-plot comic that is anything but the "main plot" and instead an exploration of the characters, their lives, the world, and how all those elements interact and have a past present and future.  That might sound weird, but it is actually quite brilliant and incredibly entertaining.  If you've read the blog, you know I'm a stickler for plot, but I actually loved Graham's plot-be-damned approach.  

On top of being a guy that can deliver amazing art, and a captivating story, Graham proves in King City that he is also a world class pun-master. Graham unloads the puns at a rate that probably averages out at over one pun per page. A bunch of puns might seem like a little thing, maybe even a silly thing to some, but they add a great layer to the story, and gave me something to search for in every world bubble, and piece of text on every page.   It's not very often that any creative piece is interactive, engaging, thought provoking, and entertaining but King City is all of the above.

Even though King City is incredibly awesome as is, there's another great quality that bears mentioning. Just in case you need more encouragement to buy/read King City, this graphic novel tips the scales at an astounding 424 pages all for the insanely cheap price of $20.  This is quite possibly the best deal ever on a comic. 

I think King City is special for a lot of good reasons, but it gets raised to that extra special level because Graham is so willing to stretch and redefine what comics are capable of doing.  The comics medium can be a bit of a stale place sometimes, but in King City, Graham showed me that comics can and should be so much more than what I've been accepting as the norm. What's great is that Graham isn't trying to shove any ideals or views down my throat, there's no agenda; making comics that expand the medium into new territory, well, that's just how he rolls, and I for one, am so happy that he does.  

Grade: A+

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