Regular readers of Comic POW know I’m a huge fan of Brandon Graham. When I discover a new creator that I like, I tend to binge on their works. Fortunately for my bank account, Brandon Graham has a pretty small canon of work in which he is both writer and artist. Prior to working on Multiple Warheads his major non-porn was was King City.
King City started off on Tokyo Pop and then the American division went belly up. The story was left untold until Image Comics picked it up for the second half. The story is, in my eyes, a cross between Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Brian Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. From Pulp Fiction it takes a couple low level gangsters – a professional burglar and a human smuggler who are best friends and then spends a large portion of the story dealing with their lives outside their jobs. From Scott Pilgrim it borrows a world that’s ALMOST, but not quite our world. One of the characters is a veteran of the Korean Zombie war. The cat burglar literally uses a cat that can become nearly any device with the right injection.
Where King City benefits from the blending of the two is that it ends up able to be a lot more serious than Scott Pilgrim even while residing in a strange (at times silly) world. While I thought the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels did a good job of having a climax that showed growth in the character as well as the reason why he acted like an ass, it was, in the end, a silly book for adults who grew up playing video games in the 80s. King City is, first and foremost, a book about living in a big city. I’d known a big about Graham’s past and I correctly guessed that this book was written while he was living in New York. The book constantly leaves the reader feeling that the city doesn’t care about its inhabitants. You’re left to look out for yourself or hope you have some good friends to help you out. There’s also the feeling that there’s a lot more going on in the city than you can know. Part of this is communicated through Joe’s story. Who would guess that in their city is a burglar who gets around by injecting his cat and giving it special powers? Additionally, he’s constantly entering secret hideouts of various gangs and crime families in King City. He even lives in a complex rented out by a Bigfoot that’s only known to others in his line of work. Finally, whenever Graham does two-page spreads you can often see lots of extraneous things going on in the city – no matter what happens to our main characters, there are others with their own lives doing their own complex dances before their lives end.
The war against Korean Zombies may be ridiculous, but Graham uses it to examine how war leaves us damaged. Not only does Max have a busted leg, but he’s become addicted to chalk as a way to forget the crazy things he saw during the war. And the drug causes its users to become brittle like chalk. When they die, the dealers come and collect the person to sell the chalk. It’s a poignantly tragic story in the middle of silliness, but it doesn’t feel out of place. All the characters in King City are young adults with young adult problems – exacerbated by the weird world they live in. It could also almost be compared to Rent in the tone and the age of the characters (although with less AIDS).
Interestingly, I found the most serious story to involve the secondary character, Pete. Remember that character Dumb Donald from Fat Albert? He looks like this:
Look at Pete on the far right:
He spends a lot of the beginning of the book wearing that toque and we never see his face. He starts off the book picking up a girl he’s going to sell into human trafficking as he always does. For some reason he falls for her and after he delivers her to his bosses, he starts having regrets. And we end up seeing his face for the first time. Brandon Graham really makes that moment mean something to us just with that simple act. And he spends much of the rest of the comic with the toque on, until another key moment. It’s Brandon’s attention to the effects of these small moments that really transforms King City from yet another (admittedly awesome) wandering book full of puns (as Multiple Warheads has thus turned out to be since its time as a porn comic).
Surprisingly, I found Joe’s narrative to be the least compelling. That’s not to say that it wasn’t good. It definitely hangs with the other narratives like Anna dealing with Max’s drug addiction and her desire to help him even more than he wants to help himself. But Joe seems to have the least true adversity. He is getting over a breakup with Anna, the perfect girl for him, and his memories tell us it was all his fault. He’s doing burglar stuff, but that’s mostly secondary to the story. He’s our conduit to Pete, Anna, and Max and he’s our reader stand-in, explaining the world to us. He eventually hooks up with someone involved in an organization that’s trying to stop some evil form taking over the world, but it’s wonderful and meaningless sex. He never has any true obstacles. He’s still a fascinating character and insight into a world in which people fight with cats, but I quickly found myself wanting to spend more time with Pete and Max.
If you want to be transported to somewhere that’s just slightly not here and see the story of a few young adults and how they deal with this crazy world, I highly recommend checking out King City.
King City, with writing and art by Brandon Graham is available on Amazon.