(Some of the images in this one might be too sexy for work. If so, you should fire your boss and become a boss yourself.)
Reading Brandon Graham’s King City also sparks two thoughts in my mind. The first is “Wow, this comic is fantastic.” The second is, “Wow, that comic made all these other comics I bought this week look stupid.”
The thing about King City is that it’s a dense comic. I don’t mean dense in the sense of the opposite of decompression, if people still complain about that. I mean dense in the sense that there’s a lot to take in, if you just take the time to do so. The book is littered with puns, little bits of cleverness, and swift turns of phrase. They can be as simple as Optimus Prime Roast or a girl obsessed with painting mustaches on billboards, or brief phrases layered with meaning.
King City isn’t really about anything. I mean, sure, there’s a hero and his cat (Joe and Earthling), the femme fatale (Beebay, and in the classic sense of the term, a woman who leads men to their doom), the ex-girlfriend (Anna), the best friend (Pete), and a big fat world-ending menace. At some point, Joe and Earthling are going to have to handle the threat, but King City isn’t about that. Graham will handle that when he has to. In the interim, he’s just going to hit you with the life and times of the cast.
I don’t mind that approach one bit, because Graham’s shifted focus genuinely pays off. Every single page has something hidden or in plain sight that’s worthy of examination. One of my favorite scenes in the comic is the semi-sex scene at the end of issue seven. The scene skips from solicitation to post-coital between panels, like a jump cut in a movie. That is worthy of examination in and of itself, but what I like the best about this scene are just seven short words.
Joe, looking at Beebay, says, “This thing with Beebay is weird. Sometimes her cigarette smoke smells like flowers. Beebay is weird.” That’s one of those things that make you pause and rewind a bit just so you can read it again. I definitely did it, and it managed to get stuck in my head for several weeks. It’s an expression of that screwed up kind of attraction that you fall into by accident, where someone can simultaneously do no wrong and is still not to be trusted. It’s too right, and it’s so good that something must be up. There’s a catch, there’s a trick, there’s something going on that isn’t right. Have you ever felt that?
And I mean, that’s just one page. You can get the depth of Joe’s desire and distrust right there. Two pages later, Graham spells it out for you with another pun and a pointed remark. Beebay has a big butt, and as she walks away, Joe thinks, “Child burying hips.” As she pulls on her stockings, he thinks, “She’s a fucking snake pit though.” Desire and distrust, all wrapped up in one easy to understand package.
Two pages, two hundred words. I could go on and on about this segment of the book (the way that Beebay “leaves my room full of empty” when she leaves, the heart-on joke, the trail of clothes leading to the bed with the impeccable cereal bowl, the way whispers the word “ssex” into Joe’s ear like an old Bugs Bunny cartoon, or the Mars penetrating the Venus), but this is just spring boarding off one small scene. There’s so much to enjoy about King City. I could sit down with every issue of King City and find one sequence worth talking about at length, and then do it again and again and again. There’s depth here, and it’s fantastic.
Another thing. One thing cape comics have been doing that blows my mind, and not in a good way, is wasting double page spreads on exposition and talking heads. Who wants to see John Romita Jr draw twenty-odd headshots of people saying “Yes” or “No” to Captain America? That’s wasted page space. In King City, the spreads are used for things with actual impact, like when the big bad monster happens across Anna, or to build mood and set the stage, as in the amazing spreads that just show the kingcityscape. These are punches. Talking heads aren’t even little kid bops.
I don’t read King City when I read what few remaining weekly books I still pick up. King City overshadows them, making them look lazy in comparison. There are books that I dig quite a bit that end up looking like pointless water-treading when you read them before or after reading King City. I usually save King City for the weekend, when I can relax on the couch, read it, take a nap, wake up, and read it again. I consume King City. It’s like the difference between a fast food burger and one you make yourself. One will fill your stomach. The other will make you feel good.
When’s the last time you read something in Justice League or Avengers that resonated as strongly as “Sometimes her cigarette smoke smells like flowers?” Is there any reason why those books shouldn’t resonate, shouldn’t be as personal, as King City? Once you experience something nice, you don’t want to go back to what you had before. No one wants to go back to wearing buttercookies after trying on a nice pair of Air Force 1s. No one wants to drive a Volvo after getting behind the wheel of a Cadillac. King City is like that. It’s enormously creative, clearly a work of love, and the sort of eating that sticks to your ribs.
How can you go back to other comics after that? King City has been a big factor in my slow retreat from corporate comics over the past year. I need to keep upping the ante, and while I’ve found several books that live up to the new standard, a lot have been left by the wayside. No, let me rephrase the question.
Why should I go back to other comics after that?
Brandon Graham, man. He’s making everybody else look bad.