Monday, 18 April 2011

Comics Are For Kids, Right?

Joe the Barbarian
Writer: Grant Morrison
Art: Sean Murphy
Colourist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Todd Klein
Vertigo Comics

I’ve always divided my time fairly evenly between comics and genre literature; providing I could drag myself away from console games or tabletop wargaming. My geekery knows no bounds.

It’s this scattershot approach to Geek Culture that means I’ve largely missed out on Grant Morrison’s body of work. He’s been on my cultural radar for ages, I’d just not gotten around to finding out what the spell-casting, frequently nekkid, Scots fellow was capable of.

Joe the Barbarian changed all of that.

I’ve been steady collecting the monthly comics since March last year. I say ‘monthly’, Joe the Barbarian hit a couple of production bumps it would seem, and the last issue, #8 has only been released recently.

Morrison crafts an Alice in Wonderland-esque alternate world out of the protagonist's hypoglycemic hallucination. This compounded with Joe’s anger and grief for his father underpins the series narrative. The story weaves elements of the real world into a Fantastic (with a capital ‘F’), quest driven story. The whole conceit is made more charming for the fact that Joe knows he simply needs to get a soda from the fridge to wake up from the unreality he’s experiencing. The characters in the hallucinated world all speak exactly as if they’d been lifted from High Fantasy novels, and the place names of the imagined world are suitably outlandish.

This story has it all: Anthropomorphized sword-wielding pets, an army of action figures and super heroes plundered from pop culture, dwarven pirates, tons of action, real world events bleeding into the imagined world, and real life consequences too.

The first issue is particularly powerful. At points the issue turns over entire pages to encapsulate the loneliness Joe is feeling and how bleak his world is, summed up by the gorgeous art of Sean Murphy and coloured by Dave Stewart.

The art style and nonsensical predicament put me in mind of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, which also alludes to a world beyond our own. Todd Klein (something of a legend in comics) provided lettering for both series. His is light, nuanced touch in Joe the Barbarian, the sound effects never overpower the art and sit nicely with trippy, gloomy world Murphy and Stewart concoct.

Joe the Barbarian is a rare treat: an all ages comic with real heart, fun, memorable characters and the genuine feel of the hero digging deep and saving himself and the world he lives in.

A deluxe hardcover graphic novel is slated for release in September 2011. If you can’t wait that long the single issues are available on Ebay.

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