Praising Kane


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Kane: Greetings from New Eden, by Paul Grist. Image, 2004.

Paul Grist began self-publishing his gritty, noir comic book Kane in 1993, from his home base in England.  A decade would pass before American readers would get to know Grist’s hard-boiled hero, when Image began reprinting the book, along with Grist’s later, Union-Jack clad superhero, Jack Staff.  Americans have now had a few years to catch up, so there’s no excuse for being left behind. 

Volume I of the Image edition, titled Greetings from the New Eden, reprints the first four self-published issues, introducing us to Kane, a police detective with a shadowy past, and his new, unwelcome partner, young officer Kate Felix.  We meet our protagonists in media res, as a madman holds an infant at gunpoint in a church.  Kane moves in to take care of business, only to learn that he’s not as self-reliant as he’d like to believe.

The simple, self-contained plots of the early issues are less interesting than Kane’s backstory, told in flashbacks unfolding in a non-linear fashion, jumping backward and forward and intercutting with the main plot.  We soon realize that Kane’s recent six-month leave of absence is closely connected to his prior partner’s “retirement” from the police force, an untimely end in which Kane played a part.  His colleagues on the force are none too happy to have him back.

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Grist’s hard-boiled tone and archetypal characters and situations will remind readers of a roughly contemporary and much more famous series: Frank Miller’s Sin City.  The similarities extend even to the fictional, sketchily drawn cities the characters inhabit, with New Eden standing in for Miller’s Basin City.  And Grist’s use of visual shorthand, with the merest hints of white on a black background, for example, to represent a building, is also reminiscent of Miller’s later expressionistic art.  

The book will also seem very similar to fans of a much later series, Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers, which shares virtually every archetypal plot point with Kane (though Bendis sets his noir thriller in a world incorporating the super-powered heroes of the title). As well, Grist’s cartoon-like illustrations and daring use of shadows and perspective evoke the same effects employed by Oeming, just as the use of media images and newscasts to advance the story echo the efficient storytelling of Bendisand of earlier creations by Howard Chaykin (American Flagg!) and Miller (The Dark Knight Returns).

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Rather than conscious imitation, the family resemblance among all these works rather reflects a shared lineage, both of the familiar stereotypes of noir films and novels, and of the noir-inspired comics that followed.  The striking noir imagery of Argentinean artist Jose Munoz, for example, whose noir masterpiece Alack Sinner (with writer Carlos Sampayo – reprinted in the U.S. as Sinner) was an acknowledged inspiration for Sin City, and likely proved a primer for Grist as well, and for other expressionistic artists like David Mazzuchelli and David Lapham.  Munoz’s chiaroscuro effects and distorted faces and figures are echoed in the noir works of all these creators. 

Munoz’s distinctive style, shaped by his training under Italian master Hugo Pratt (Corto Maltese), has been so influential that it has become almost a trademark for an emerging class of Argentinean artists including Eduardo Risso (100 Bullets) and Oscar Capristo (Heavy Metal), artist on “I Married Ghost Girl,” appearing this month in the Dark Horrors anthology from Arcana, with a script by Jeff Loew.  (This has been an egregious act of unsolicited self-promotion.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled column.)

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Grist uses a wealth of devices to provide variety and novelty to Kane’s spare black and white pages, providing a virtual primer on modes of sequential story-telling.  The self-conscious use of visual effects throughout – whether in daring juxtapositions of shadow and light, POV shots from neck-breaking angles, or sharply cut leaps from one image or scene to the next –echoes such noir pioneers as Orson Welles and Will Eisner (with a little Chuck Jones thrown in for good measure), each in turn inspired by German expressionists to reduce an uncertain world into simple, black-and-white shapes that only barely conceal the complex, corrupt forces beneath the surface.

What the foregoing analysis leaves out is that Grist is, above all, a brilliant cartoonist.  His confident, humorous line evokes Kurtzman or Aragones, while his villains, some clad in bunny suits or bearing absurd nicknames like “The Plunderer,” further demonstrate a gently mocking humor that undercuts the otherwise grim atmosphere, expressing a wit that Sin City, Powers, and 100 Bullets all fail to capture in the midst of their pompous self-seriousness.

Even if the premise of Kane sounds a bit too familiar for comfort, I urge you to check it out anyway, and to behold a master cartoonist displaying his talents on a highly stylized palette.

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Jeff Loew has been named a finalist in the "Be A Visionary" contest sponsored by Visionary Comics Studio and Markosia Enterprises.  His story,"I Married Ghost Girl," appears in the Arcana anthology, Dark Horrors, listed in Previews (SEP06 3063) and available soon in fine comic shops everywhere. Find out more about Jeff's work at his website, www.movingpanels.com.


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