Readers of The Lost Art

The Originals – Jean’s Review

November 9th, 2009

The Originals

Writer and Artist:       Dave Gibbons

Reviewer:                   Jean 

WARNING:  Contains spoilers.


Dave Gibbons’ THE ORIGINALS is a very smart production, an unusual squarish hardback with striking black and white op art styling; and the content isn’t terrible, not by a long shot, but there’s nothing about it you haven’t seen before. 

Visually, it’s WATCHMEN meets QUADROPHENIA: that O-with-an-arrow Original logo says it all. Take a bunch of mods, jazz them up with Bridget Riley monochrome geometrical designs, then add a futuristic twist: the scooters that are not exactly scooters, the parkas that aren’t exactly parkas. This feels like cheating: the story draws authenticity and colour from clear and specific references to time and place, and then demands the right to tell it like it wasn’t on the basis of a few cosmetic changes. Throwing in some WATCHMEN-style graffiti just reminds us how well this can be done, and how well Gibbons can do it. 

Yet the visuals are Gibbons’ strong point. If he doesn’t excel when he plays to his strengths, how much can we expect of the story? It’s the old tale of a lad who goes to the bad. The protagonist and his mate idolise the Originals, the cool kids’ gang, and find themselves a way into the charmed circle which sets the central character to dealing in pills. He’s only a middleman, but he does it well and he prospers. They meet a girl – in fact, Best Friend sees her first, but pretends not to mind that she ends up with Protagonist (and if you hadn’t seen him as marked to die from the first page, you’d know it by now, wouldn’t you?) 

The protagonist (and while of course the characters all had names, I returned the book to the library before I wrote this: draw your own conclusions from my inability to remember those names) is a bit of a blank, character-wise. To some extent, the construction of the story requires this: the reader has to be able to sympathise with the character enough that it’s a shock when he finally throws in his lot with the bad guys, when he sees his progression not as tragic but as a price worth paying. You sympathise with the protagonist because you expect to sympathise with him; besides, he has a Best Friend and a Girl who seem like nice people, and they both like him – though in retrospect, it’s hard to see why. 

The other thing I don’t know is why he so dislikes the other kid, the one who idolises him the way he idolises the Originals. It turns out, of course, that this is the loose cannon, the wild card, the person who gets a gun and shifts the violence up a notch, so that afterwards he can justify his dislike – as if this wildness was something he’d naturally dislike, as if it weren’t something he’d helped to create by always pushing the boy out of the group. It feels as if there’s a back-story here, but it hasn’t been supplied. 

To be fair to Dave Gibbons, he nearly gets away with this – THE ORIGINALS isn’t the worst comic I read all year.  I didn’t see the final twist coming, for example, but when it did I thought “Oh, of course!” and was irritated with myself for not anticipating it.  I’d probably be less irritated by the book, too, if it felt like more of a total failure, less of a missed opportunity.

Short Reviews: Recent Limited Series

November 4th, 2009

1.     Werewolves on the Moon vs. Vampires

Werewolves on the Moon

Read that title. Go on, read it. Does it not make you laugh? 

That’s the idea, and the comic delivers… exactly what you’d expect. It’s got everything: werewolves, vampires, spacesuits, and tough chicks with guns. The phrase “hilarious romp” is often applied to works which aren’t really worth your time, but this is. To quote a review I once read of Dodgeball: “Thankfully, it’s made by people who fully understand that if the destination is going to be this predictable, the journey had better be fun”. Three of the goofiest werewolves ever head to the moon in search of new people to bite, only to find themselves on a moonbase run by the beautiful and hard-as-nails Captain Maggie Pilgrim, and under attack from a horde of ravening vampires. Will the werewolves and humans set aside their differences long enough to keep from becoming dinner? 

It’s an amusing tale with lots of action and, crucially, characters you actually do care about (a surprisingly hard trick to pull off in a funny comic). The artwork is good too; there’s a particularly nice example of how skilled the artist is on the first page of the second issue, where we see three “Most Wanted” posters of the werewolves’ human personas. Even though we never see them in their non-wolf forms in the comic, somehow you know that’s exactly what they look like. For once, this is a limited series I’d actually like to see more of. For another one… see below! 


2.     Mysterius the Unfathomable

Mysterius the Unfathomable

Roll up, roll up, for the adventures of Mysterius [sic] the Unfathomable. Or “Mysterius the Amazing Pregnant Man” as I’m tempted to refer to it, given the artist’s predilection for drawing most of his male characters with eight-months-pregnant-sized potbellies. I’m all for a comic series in which heroism isn’t the preserve of the implausibly pretty and skinny / buff, but it’s slightly distracting. 

Shame, because the comic itself is a blinder, and, aside from that one point, the artwork is excellent. Imagine Doctor Who with a more adult rating. (No, not Torchwood. This is actually good.) The magician Mysterius and his assistant Delfi [also sic] find themselves trying to solve a mystery after an antiques dealer contacts them to lift a rather embarassing curse. In course of doing so, they encounter seances, witches, a brilliantly-imagined realm of the imagination which resembles a nightmarish Dr Seuss cartoon, and a showdown at the Burning Man festival in Arizona. Gripping, entertaining, and with characters you’ll care about, as Mysterius and Delfi try to work out their working relationship whilst at the same time trying not to die horribly. Recommended. 


3.     Screamland


A monster tale unlike many others. This tells the story of four monsters (Frankenstein’s monster, werewolf, mummy and vampire) adrift in Hollywood; the work used to be good, but since special effects improved they’ve been struggling to find employment. Some are embittered, some live on past glories, some are hitting the bottle, and one lives in hope of his secret never being revealed. A clever look at Hollywood from an unusual perspective with good artwork. I found it a little bit predictable, but it is a first comic, and for a first comic, it’s far better than much other stuff out there by more established writers.