“John Prophet is awake” is a puzzle piece.

May 31st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I’ve been enjoying Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Ed Brisson, Joseph Bergin III, and Giannis Milonogiannis’s Prophet. And like everything else I enjoy, I’ve been trying to pull it apart to see how it works. There’s a lot to chew on, but one of the many things that’s captivated me is this, from issue 24:

“John Prophet is awake.” Something about that stuck with me, to the point where I went back and reread the series, looking for similarly gripping statements. It made me re-examine and really pay attention to the narration in the book.

Graham’s really blunt style in Prophet works for me. It’s pointed, too, if I can mix meanings for a minute. “John Prophet is awake.” “The Earth Empire is here.” These are statements that sound like threats. They sound like something is lurking around behind the words, or around the edges of the phrase, that’s waiting to jump out and ruin your day. Funnybook Babylon‘s Pedro Tejeda described it as foreboding. He’s right.

Part of why these little phrases keep catching my eye is that I’ve been reading James Ellroy’s Blood’s A Rover for the past two weeks, and thinking about the other two books in the Underworld USA series for a couple years now. Here’s a sample of Ellroy’s prose from Blood’s A Rover:

The boss type looks pissed. The guys fan out. One guy scopes the Brylcreem, three guys walk to the rear. The boss type turns his back and tidies the candy shelf. The Brylcreem guy pulls a silencered revolver and walks straight up. The boss type turns around and goes “Oh.” The Brylcreem guy sticks the barrel in his mouth and blows off the top of his head. Silencer thud, brain and skull spray. No crash—the boss type just slides down the shelf row and dies.

Ellroy’s got a similarly blunt style, and as a result of how the books shake out, that bluntness is harrowing. It’s an indication that danger’s right around the corner, that life is short and mean, and that there’s no safe spaces, not really. It’s the perfect tone for Ellroy’s secret history of the ’50s and ’60s, because the prose crawls up underneath your skin and settles in. Even peaceful scenes are fraught with tension because of this. You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Ellroy’s books are only ever five short words away from brutal, life-changing violence. (More on Rover later, I figure.)

These two books aren’t connected at all. I asked Brandon if he had read any Ellroy and he said nah. But, that doesn’t stop them from working in concert and feeding off each other inside my head. Both of the books are in my orbit, and they feed off each other accordingly. One work enhances or alters my perception of the other, even though the two books are incredibly different from each other. I mean, it’s Space Conan vs Sleazy History — not a lot of points of comparison there.

But: “The Earth Empire is here.” “One guy scopes the Brylcreem, three guys walk to the rear.” Both of these statements foretell doom. They deliver a shiver before everyone gets down to business. There’s a connection.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to comics, obviously. It’s a product of taking part in any type of culture. But I like when these sorts of things happen, when I find a connection between works I enjoy. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and picking up on parallel paths in books or similar techniques is always interesting. Sometimes all you need to figure something out is to see someone else do something similar, and then you can apply that new knowledge to the problem you’re trying to solve.

I’m going to solve Prophet at some point. Ellroy just provided another tool for the toolbox.

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The Prophet Exception: More On Artist Changes

February 26th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I said that artist changes due to double-shipping mainstream comics devalues the artist. Not all art changes are evil, though. Sure, some of them are of the Final Crisis variety and result in terrible comics, but every once and a while, people get them right. Artist changes, guest artists, however you want to call them–they can be used tactically, as a way to showcase an artist or add a little extra punch to a storyline.

This may be weird, but follow along for a minute. One of the best examples of the way a guest artist can make something extra dope is a song. It relates to my point about unwanted art changes being like new actors showing up in old roles in a movie or a song changing direction mid-stream. It’s Big Boi’s “Fo Yo Sorrows,” off that Sir Lucious album:

It happens around 0:55. Too $hort, the legendary rapper out of Oakland, pops up to drop four bars and then bounce. That’s a quarter of a verse. It’s a cameo, but it goes deeper than that. At 0:47, Big Boi flips the word “bitch” just like $hort made famous, and then says that $hort was one of his favorite rappers. For Too $hort to pop up on this song for something that’s little more than a cameo is ill. It’s rappers playing around and having some fun. It’s not really a guest spot. It’s something you smile about, because you’re in on the joke.

That’s the feeling that art changes should give you. A little spike of glee, or a chance to explain to everyone you know exactly why what just happened is so good.

The Immortal Iron Fist did it well, for the most part. The flashbacks to adventures of other Iron Fists were drawn by a variety of dope artists, each one tackling a different Iron Fist. David Aja drew the modern pages, and his art served as connective tissue between the flashbacks. He set the tone and stage for the book, and then when the story required that the tone and stage change, Travel Foreman, John Severin, Russ Heath, and Sal Buscema tagged in to get it done. Aja is Big Boi, and John Severin is Too $hort. He brings with him a history and pedigree that people on the inside will get, while others will just go, “Yo, that looked pretty cool.”

Big Boi/Matt Fraction/Ed Brubaker had a good reason for their guests showing up, too. It’s not just a willy-nilly thing. There’s a point. It’s an enhancement, rather than someone just plugging another gear into the mix so that the machine goes faster. It turned Immortal Iron Fist into a jam comic. It provided variety.

There’s a really good example of what I’m talking about coming up later this year. Prophet started life as a Rob Liefeld/Dan Panosian joint. As part of the big Extreme relaunch, it’s currently in the hands of Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Richard Ballermann, and Ed Brisson. It’s really good, actually, part of the continuously rising wave over at Image. Graham is writing, but working closely with Roy to make the story the best it can be. Sometimes that means layouts, other times it means Roy making sure that Graham’s on point or vice versa. It’s a collaboration. And there’s going to be guests popping in. From Graham’s blog:

So I’d written on here before that Prophet would come out 6 times a year but some cool shit has happened and now it’s going to be 12 issues a year monthly.

So here’s the schedule:

Starting Jan-

#21(number 1 in our hearts) -#23 art by Simon Roy (Jan’s Atomic heart), then #24 &25 are drawn by farel dalrymple (pop gun war) I’m drawing #26 and Giannis Milonogiannis (Old city blues)is doing # 27- 32. I think we’ve come up with a cool way to make this work storywize.

The situation isn’t too dissimilar from Marvel, and I’m sure a lot of people will say it isn’t different at all. There’s a comic, and the people making it want it to come out more frequently, so more artists are joining the team. The original draw of the series was the Graham/Roy/Ballermann/Brisson team, and that’s changing. I think that there’s a difference here, but a very, very fine one. I don’t think the difference is “I like these guys,” either. I like a lot of them dudes who are coming onto books I like, too.

Instead of just slipping new dudes into the rotation to boost the schedule, editor Eric Stephenson and writer Graham have found artists to work with and crafted the story around them. My understanding is that each artist will be working on a story tailored for them, rather than simply being used to keep the ship on track. All of the artists are doing covers, too, I suppose as a type of introduction. There’s a creative reason here, and I think that has more value than the purely economical reasons Marvel has to have artists playing musical chairs.

Here’s the covers for Prophet 22-24 and 26. The covers are by Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis, and Brandon Graham, in that order.

They have absolutely distinct styles, right? Roy & Ballermann’s palette is dusty and soft, Dalrymple’s muted and night time-y, Milonogiannis’s is aged, and Graham’s is soft, but in a different way than Ballermann’s. Firmer, maybe. Roy & Ballermann’s art is rough and loose. Dalrymple is detailed and gloomy. Milonogiannis is… I don’t even know the right word for it right now. Majestic? Ominous? I get the feeling of mankind making contact with an entirely alien and apathetic intelligence, something that sees us as being beneath its notice. And Graham’s cover for 26 reminds me of nothing so much as the passage of a lot of time.

Things like this make art changes into events. It’s not just “Oh, we want to make people buy this book sixteen times a year instead of twelve.” It’s “We want this book to be the best it can be.”

I think it’ll work. I’m looking forward to finding out.

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