I have recently re-read the crime comic series ‘CRIMINAL’ by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. In fact, I pretty much binge read all six novels in one sitting. I came away feeling an empathy for most of the characters, not all of course – Sebastian Hyde and Riley Richards are, well, monsters. But most of the central players are trapped in a world they didn’t choose to inhabit and from which they are unable to escape. Tracey Lawless in particular emerges as admirable and decent.
As far as modern crime comics are concerned Brubaker and Phillips are certainly the big hitters. Wander into a comic shop on any High Street almost anywhere and I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll find some of their work up on the shelves.
I feel on the same wavelength as these guys. I recognise their influences and get most of the references. They love old Hollywood films, especially from the 1940s and 1950s and especially Film Noir, together with certain films from the 1970s. ‘The Godfather’, for instance, or ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ or ‘Taxi Driver’ – I know they are fans of the Peter Yates film ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ with Robert Mitchum. The air of tragedy and stubborn resignation that runs through that film is also found in the ‘CRIMINAL’ series.
Whenever I visit my local comic shop I always feel awkward and out of place. For starters, I am always older than the other customers and my favourite comic of all time is Harvey Pekar’s ‘AMERICAN SPLENDOR’. But I don’t bother looking for the anthologies because I know already that they won’t be there.
The Superheroes dominate – they are the Rulers and that’s okay, I understand. I grew up reading ‘MARVEL’ and often I find myself needing to check in to find out what is happening.
When Stan Lee died I was both saddened and shocked. It made me want to find out more about him and the early days of ‘MARVEL’. Not only about Lee but also the others, about Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
But surrounded by all the paraphernalia, by the latest editions and the games and the action figures I always feel anxious and out of my depth. I worry that the guy behind the counter or one of the other young super fans will begin to quiz me. About the latest ‘ANIMAL MAN’ perhaps, or ‘SWAMP THING’ or about ‘X-MEN’ or ‘THE AVENGERS’.
Stranded there I know it’s pointless to look for comics by Pekar or John Porcellino or even Robert Crumb. And so I search out the books by Brubaker and Phillips and I pull one down. It may be one I already own but it doesn’t matter. At least I can get my bearing and breathe again and not feel that I shouldn’t be there, that I don’t belong.