“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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