I have always been a sucker for post-apocalyptic stories, and Just a Pilgrim by Garth Ennis fits that bill. It was originally released as a five-issue miniseries by Black Bull in 2001, but you can get the complete trade paperback now. Ennis, of Preacher and Punisher fame, combines a bunch of off-kilter ideas and character traits in this story, which makes the comic interesting, but strangely enough, also keeps it from being anything other than an amusing oddity.
The story takes place after a solar event called “the burn.” The burn scorches the Earth, destroys all plant life, and evaporates all the water. Apparently, the radiation also created some monsters. The setting is a quirky mix of an Eastwood spaghetti western and The Road Warrior. Pilgrim is Eastwood, kinda.
Just a Pilgrim
We are never given his name, other than Pilgrim. He’s an anti-hero that the reader can never quite be sure about, especially at the end. In typical Ennis fashion, Pilgrim is a religious fundamentalist with a wicked past and a penchant for grotesque violence, while quoting scripture. He assists a group of people traveling through the wasteland of the Atlantic seabed. They’re trying to find a rumored outpost where people can live in relative safety. On the way, a band of barbarians, with a leader who is the stereotypical pirate, becomes determined to kill, rape, and pillage the group. A young boy with the traveling group, Billy Shepherd, documents the trip in his diary. It’s high adventure on the dried up seas.
Some of the details just feel like they were meant to be shocking for the sake of being shocking. Pilgrim’s character is interesting. Is he a hero? An anti-hero? A villain? But the religious twist just feels like Ennis is taking unfair jabs at people of faith. Overall, Just a Pilgrim is a quick, easy read with post-apocalyptic flair and adventure, but there’s not much weight to it.
Top Shelf Productions published a remastered version of Jeff Lemire’s Lost Dogs in June 2012. Chris Ross re-lettered the book and helped Lemire repackage it. This is a powerful short story of a graphic novel using three colors and a brush.
Timothy Callahan reflects in his introduction on the first time he saw the Lost Dogs at a comic show. He walked away without buying it. He writes:
And before long, I returned. The glimpses of imagery haunted me through the rest of the day at the MoCCA art festival. Before I left for home, I stopped at Lemire’s booth and bought a copy of Lost Dogs, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made (at a comic book show, at least).
That’s the kind of book Lost Dogs is. It’s haunting, and it sticks with you. If you’re familiar with Lemire’s work, you will not be disappointed. Lost Dogs is his first work, and he is finding his style and voice. You’ll see how his work has evolved and become more refined without losing any of the power or rawness.
Less is More
I came to the book from Lemire’s most recent graphic novel, The Underwater Welder. The artwork in Lost Dogs is certainly rawer, but the power of the story and even some underlying themes remain the same. The book has Lemire’s signature full page panels that stun you with their ability to capture crucial story elements. I just linger on those pages. And the text is kept to the bare essentials. Not one word is unnecessary.
Bare-knuckle Fist Fight
Callahan’s introduction really captures the work well:
Lost Dogs is rough, it is raw as hell, but it’s rough like a bareknuckle fist fight and raw like a rusty knife into your gut. Lemire’s artistic style has tightened up since he first worked on this book, but the grammar, the fundamental storytelling elements, remain the same as what you might see in the Essex County comics, or in his work for Vertigo. He’s a true cartoonist, in the sense that his words and his pictures flow from the same source.
If you’re a Jeff Lemire fan, do yourself a favor and pick this up. You’ll read it through it one sitting and then want to read it again.
I was turned on to Jeff Smith’s RASL by The Best American Comics of 2011. RASL is much different than Smith’s famous masterpiece, Bone. Where Bone is a epic lighthearted fantasy adventure, RASL is a dark and gritty sci fi noir. RASL, the main character, is a hard drinking art thief with a mysterious past. His girlfriend is a prostitute, but he has another girl’s name tattooed on his arm. There’s time jumping, a history lesson on Tesla, a government conspiracy, and a bad guy who looks like a lizard (think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) chasing RASL across parallel timelines. Of course, RASL is not his original name, and I’ve yet to figure out what it means.
The overriding theme is the need to make things right with the past, but the harder RASL tries the higher the cost to himself. There is some Native American imagery regarding life being a maze, and the time jumping lends to the theme. There is the recurring image of a pebble being dropped in water and the resultant ripples. It reads like a blend of Raymond Chandler, Hunter S. Thompson, and LOST. Good, dark fun all around.
The series is steeped in mystery, and Smith is a master of cliffhangers. I don’t want to give away much of the plot because the mystery of it all is what drives the series. Rumors are circulating on the interwebs that the series will come to an explosive conclusion in 2012 or 2013. Issues 1-11 have been collected in three volumes. You can check out the hardcover volume here.