For the longest time I was a huge proponent of plot being the most important thing in my pop culture narratives. I became plot-blind, worrying only if the story made sense or was original or compelling. But there’s more to most movies, television, books, and comics than the plot. And while the plots in the two books I loved this week were simplistic at best, the art elevates both to great heights.
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Cowboy Ninja Viking
I know they say don’t judge a book by its cover but I often can’t help myself. Something called, for instance, Cowboy Ninja Viking makes me think of something incredibly goofy that’s just pandering to the comic book audience’s affection for genres. After reading the first (and so far only) two trades, though, I have to say: I wasn’t entirely wrong. But when I was wrong, I was wrong in the best way.
The story is pretty bonkers. Years ago a hyper-intelligent, hedonistic, and sarcastic psychologist created a secret network of assassins with multiple personality disorder. These assassins (called Triplets) utilize the skills of each of their personalities to complete their missions, whether it’s the titular Cowboy Ninja Viking or a Sniper Chef Martial Artist a Gladiator Pirate Oceanographer. The plot involves twists and turns and double crosses and triple crosses and I’m not sure if it’s possible to actually follow the plot to its logical conclusion, but is it a fun story to try to navigate
The best part of the book, by far, is the art by Riley Rossmo. His art is sketchy and kinetic and super-raw, using multiple media (including pen and ink, paint, markers, pencil) to give the art real texture. Sometimes it gets vey raw — big chunky marker lines in the background, the barest outlines of characters with minimal features — but that’s only an occasional thing. And that’s hardly a complaint considering the tour-de-force Rossmo puts on in the book. Whether it’s figure work, shading, panel composition: he’s a master. As the second volume begins, the art is even tighter, and it really becomes a thing of beauty.
A God Somewhere
The story of A God Somewhere is practically cliche in modern American comic books — what would happen if a regular person got superpowers? It’s a story that’s been played out numerous times, but rarely does a book capture the human capacity for wonder, shock, grief, and acceptance like this book does.
When I was doing some research about this book, I was surprised at how many readers disliked the book. Many of them were upset about how some of the character and plot developments weren’t explained, how the main character went through his personality changes seemingly at random. To me, though that’s the actual question of the book. Why does he change so much? Was he really the person that his friends and family thought he was? What kinds of things would have to happen to someone to have them go through that kind of a journey? I don’t want to talk too much about what happens in the book, but it’s not easy to read, because it invites questioning of the nature of humanity and it’s also brutally violent.
Secondly, THE ART IN THIS BOOK OH MY GOD. Reading it I get the same kind of feeling I get from a Brian Bolland or a Richard Corben comic. Artist Peter Snejbjerg and colourist Bjarne Hansen are a powerhouse visual team. The story is given real heft from the powerful visuals. The mastery of the human form and face, the attention to the foreground and the background details, the pacing of the story through page layout — it’s amazing. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.
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That’s all for me this week. Until next time, take off your plot blinders and try to look at your pop culture as a complete package. I still struggle with it myself, but it helps to see the bigger picture. I’ll see you in seven days.