Many of the comics I acquired at SDCC were true flukes. Both of the books here were simply handed to me by friendly, approachable creators who were happy to discuss the work and have it reviewed. Just in case anyone thinks there was a strategy at work: there wasn’t. I just gravitated in my convention floor wanderings to any small press comic that looked interesting to me, and these are the ones I found.
Ghost Cop, by Julian Boyd, VJ Boyd and Luke Keith, illustrated by Christian DiBari and Mike Spicer, was handed to me by VJ Boyd with a short description. His slug line was something along the lines of “1940s cop’s old Nemesis fights him from beyond the grave,” which sounded interesting enough to me to pick up the slim TPB, collecting the first four issues. It’s definitely a book brimming over with ideas and creativity, with full, almost crowded panels with an emphasis on dynamic motion lines, rough pencil art and very artful use of colour. It begins as a police procedural but quickly evolves into something closer to Gaiman than Chandler.
The book starts in 1947, following Detective Tom Fraley on his last mission, to hunt down some crooks in a dark warehouse. At night. And of course, he is attacked by a mysterious killer with glowing eyes and dispatched to the great beyond. As it turns out, Tom stays bound to this plane of reality as a ghost, who can wander through our world but only affect it in limited ways. A “ghost”, is the colloquial term. He quickly discovers that other people who have killed (aka “killers”) can also see him, including the sexy young female detective Laticia who accidentally killed once, who he helps to track down the demonic force that led to his own demise in 1947. It’s fairly cliched stuff, and we’ve seen elements of this story in Constantine, Sleepy Hollow and a few other places recently.
Not that it isn’t done with a dash of style and some real enthusiasm. A lot of the dialogue between Tom and Laticia is good Whedon-style banter (“Am I annoying you?” “Not yet”), and the first part of the book, when we see Laticia and Tom doing gumshoe detective work, is compelling enough for that genre. There’s also some effective art, like a sequence set against a lighthouse at night, framed by the moon. A later twist involving an amateur demon summoner with visions of having wings and claws and powers based on his sacrifice is also effective. It’s always good to see a genre work aware of itself enough to demonstrate the madness of its own fandom. (I rush to note that Buffy got the same place some time ago.)
Laticia, by the way, is no ordinary detective, but someone with skills in the dark arts herself, and subject to visions from the great beyond that are as disturbing as they are informative. Or confusing. I must admit, having re-read it four times, that I’m still confused by the last portion of this book. There seem to be at least three story climaxes, and much invoking of demonic and supernatural forces that seem more convenient than consistent. Without spoiling it, one obvious ending to the story feels logical and closes the character arc of Laticia and Tom, but then is overtaken by a long and convoluted supernatural fight that even Tom has to ask for clarification on a few times. The art is daring and evocative, as I mentioned before, but this third act confusion took me out of the story. The door is open for more chapters, so perhaps the creators will spin the later episodes better.
Arthur Ball, on the other hand, was a comics creator whose wares were on display a couple of “doors” down from the Sequart table. His small, creatively packaged comics were more in the style of “one sheet” satires or short strip stories rather than full narratives. Although, he told me, he is planning on taking some of the characters he has created into a real story at some point. I was won over by Ball’s sense of humor, titling himself “Arthur Ball: The Above Average Artist”. Of his many works, I picked up two: “Generic Heroine” and “The Truth Behind the Holocaust”.
Both books were true works of art, packaged creatively to reveal secret story elements through folding. Generic Heroine is simply thirteen different characters who all easily fall under the category “generic heroine”. Ball seems to realize that he’s sending up the industry in some ways, stating on the last page that “after years of reading comics and ogling the pretty girls in tight costumes I think I’ve drawn all the major types…”
Generic Heroine (Sexy Type) is clad only in the tightest of bikini tops and a thong, with boots. Her anime-style face and exaggerated features (I’m trying not to be too explicit… okay: big hips and boobs) are offset by her self-aware wit, as she appears on the cover, pointing to the title and saying, “This title could be… misinterpreted”. Ball goes on to show us Violet Vixen (animal type; “she’s the one covered in purple fur”, goes Ball’s description), Orrosta (warrior God type), Solar Wind (alien type), Venus (magic; sort of a large breasted Doctor Strange in heels and little else), Animus (demon type) and Merica (the patriotic type; “She’s a Republican”, says Ball), Dr. Donna Time (sci fi adventurer), Wobbegong (aquatic type), Mom (a monster wielding a stove and judgemental eyes), Six Shot Susanne (western type), Green Mist (ninja type) and Cobalt Steel (technology type). Each character gets a one page drawing and description, with Generic Heroine herself (sexy type), saying at the end with a bored and angry expression, “Hope you enjoyed yourself. I need to get some pants on.”
Ball’s other short, hilarious book is presented in the form of a secret file folder labeled, appropriately enough “Top Secret: The Truth About the Holocaust”. Inside you’ll find a covering letter complete with blacked-out top secret sections from the “Office of the SS”, followed by six panels of story which can be unfolded out to a seventh, telling the obvious tale: Hitler was secretly in love with a Rabbi, who broke up with him. So he started World War II. The end. We get to see the Rabbi telling Hitler, “You don’t have what it takes to love me,” and Hitler, tearfully discovering, “So we’re over?!” Not quite: love conquers all, at least in the imaginary, and the fold-out page features a passionate kiss between Hitler and the Rabbi.
I really liked and shared Ball’s dark sense of humour, and I think I’ll enjoy whatever narrative work he chooses to produce. His work was one of those small gem-like discoveries in the vast sea of art at Comic Con.