A few years back I took a gamble on a comic called King City, by an artist named Brandon Graham. I’d seen it on the shelf a few times in stores and wasn’t quite sure it was for me. I spoke to my local proprietor of fine books (Between Books in Claymont, DE) and Greg, the owner, talked me into it (as is Greg’s custom). I took the book home and devoured it. It started a very strong love of the author/artist’s work in general.
Brandon Graham’s Strange Beginnings
Art flowers in strange places. In Brandon’s case, it started between two sources – graffiti art and pornography.
Graffiti is unsurprising. It doesn’t take more than a couple seconds to look at the body of his work to see street art gushing out. From his character designs to his backgrounds, everything has this wonderfully curvy kind of flow to it. Everything seems like it originates in the wide movements of the shoulder and elbow. As a designer, I know it’s not the case – when I draw a comic you can pretty much be guaranteed that my fingers are cramping to get precise control. I think most artists do in the medium. Graham applies that big, wide-open wall principle to his designs in the micro-cosm of panel art. The work isn’t always color, but when it is, you see it there too. Solid palates generally rule his roost with little or no gradation or visual clutter to get in the way.
The more surprising aspect of his genesis into comics was his start in adult cartoons. But, when you stop to think about it, it’s perfectly rational. Sex sells. It always has, and Brandon didn’t shy away from it with either Pillow Fight or Perverts of the Unknown. His foray into adult comics opened doors though. The porn years led to Multiple Warheads taking off and his being picked up by Image Comics. Additionally he had a deal going for some time with Tokyo Pop concerning his best work (in my opinion) King City.
Graham’s City That Never Sleeps
King City is, simply put, eye opening. Brandon Graham’s unique style also combines with the absurd, the punny, and the sexy. Here’s the details:
Joe leads a complicated life. In recent years, he completed training with a far off group of mystics who trained him to be a Cat Master. His personal cat, Earthling J. J. Cattington III, possesses the power to do almost anything that Joe can dream up. All it takes is a proper explanation to Earthling, and then a quick injection of cat juice. Despite his newfound abilities, his return to King City after a long absence doesn’t make his life any easier.
The city has its own problems before adding Joe’s. There’s a strange Lovecraftian businessman running through the streets, eating the fingers of Yakuza soldiers, devouring souls, and otherwise causing trouble. Then there’s Joe’s luchador-styled best friend who works questionable jobs for a crime cartel. There’s a sexy, alien plant woman victimized by xenos trafficking. There’s new and incredibly bizarre street gangs (as well as really weird familiar ones). A mysterious femme fatale keeps crossing his path who seems to know something about the monstrous salaryman, too.
Oh, and then there’s Joe’s ex, Ana. Joe and Ana feel like there was nothing resolved in their past relationship, which makes things difficult for both of them when he wanders back to the city after a few years away. Despite lingering feelings, she’s got a new beau who has an addiction to a drug that eventually will transform his body into the same drug he’s using: Chalk. He got that way after using it to drive away the nightmares of his time in the zombie war going on in North Korea.
You can see why I like this so much. Between the style and the over-the-top ideas and action, King City grabs you by the frontal lobe and starts swinging into whatever it damn well pleases. Even the margins and book flaps are awesome, complete with puzzle sections, clever wordplay, and the occasional paper doll cut-out page. The whole package delivers to you a peyote fueled lens of science fiction that mixes in with kid’s pun books and a hint of Douglas Adams styled absurdity.
But, he doesn’t stop there. Brandon Graham is known to put out the occasional art collection, too. Walrus and Escalator are both of the books I regularly thumb through because his work is so fun to look at. In these works he delivers shorter stories, general art pieces, ramblings and other content that doesn’t fit in with his established work. I can only hope that we’ll get more of this sort of thing as his works continue to grow and evolve.
Right now it’s my understanding that he’s working regularly on a Heavy Metal formatted production called Island. It’s not in the ultra-violent and mammary-heavy side of Heavy Metal; it’s more a collection of three or four stories assembled by Graham’s chosen collaborators over several episodes (Such as I.D. by Emma Rios, now available as its own graphic novel). Graham himself makes his own contributions as well as taking on the management of the effort.
Nice Facts, Poindexter; How Does Brandon Graham Inspire?
The man knows how to open up a world that takes you in. I hear so many creatives tell you that your characters are what the reader latches onto. There’s truth in that, but if those characters are just running around in the world I see everyday… it may not grab my eyeballs or my brain stem. Graham is really good at doing not just the tried-and-true character development stuff, he lets his settings, like King City, be characters in their own right.
Additionally, he does all of these little things – such as the before mentioned liner notes, or impromptu crossword puzzles, and really, really clever (and bad) puns when you least expect them. And then, there’s the sheer absurdity. The older I get, the more I appreciate that flat out illogical nature of our lives, and Brandon Graham knows how to maximize that.
His overall work gives me a high bar to look at and strive for. And if that isn’t inspiration, then I don’t know what is.
You Want To Know More
Of course you do. And you should. So go pay him a visit at his blog. He’s active on Tumblr as well. Or, go ahead and find his work at your local comic book store. If you’re looking for his bibliography, you could do worse than looking him up at Goodreads too.