I can’t speak for everyone, but I am a big fan of jazz music. Its whole “free flow” concept with times for individual achievement through solos….Beautiful. But what makes jazz music so wonderful is how all the individualized concepts come together to form a perfect sound. It is that sound that can be considered true art. Not everyone will like it, but I for one appreciate it and see it as a pure and raw musical emotion that isn’t experienced as often as it should be. With the exception of a few (seems like much too few sometimes), there are not many people who view comics as a powerful art form medium. I mean sure, there are the Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman types who take their subjects and push them to unexplored levels, but they are few and far between. It is those types of creators however that allow readers to recognize that comics can be more than just an “entertainment rag”. They can be powerful… they can be mind-blowing… they can be… well… art.
Unlike other mediums though, comics require a mixture of individuals working in written and drawn form with their individualized talents to come together if they wish for their work to become something purely beautiful and emotional… a jazz sound if you will. In reviewing the Dark Horse reissue of Violent Cases, that is what I have discovered. It is jazz. It is art. It is good.
The story itself is simple enough… a man (who looks a whole lot like Neil Gaiman, nice touch) is sitting smoking a cigarette and reflecting about some memories of his when he was four years old with some flashes to when he was older (13-16, etc.). The memories are often tangled and confusing, but they are an honest and raw reflection of what our narrator experienced when he was a child and in his interactions with his parents, grandparents, a osteopath who once was employed by Al Capone, other kids, a creepy bald magician, and three men in hats. Nothing really happens per se on a huge action type front, but the story is as rich and detailed as the man who is reflecting back to memories that his mind perceived when he was four. It can be muddled, but as a reader, you realize, the looks do not matter, it’s the story, his story, the man who is telling it. The writing is truly masterful and unique. A work created by a true master.
Then there is the art. The art visualizes the memories and we are given different shades of textures, browns, blacks, blues, reds, old movie posters, old movie stars, old school film noir looks, and smoky glazed images. It could possibly be some of the most amazing artwork that I have ever seen while reading comics. You get lost in the images and impressed by the sheer detail of the drawings. It is amazing, the work of a true master (I said that already, didn’t I?).
You finally begin to see all the various forms of lettering, some blocked well, and others in cursive handwriting, still others in bold print. Each letter flows with powerful emotion and conveys different meanings that work well with the blending of the fantastic writing and incredible artwork. You see the work of many individualized masters demonstrating a perfection of their craft and it is impressive. When you put them together… you get jazz music. But more importantly, you get art. True art. Yes, this is a comic book, but it is art too.
Then you realize that this is the work not of several masters, but only of two young (well at the time young) men early in their careers. Before Sandman would become a cornerstone of comic excellence, or any of the other amazing projects that these two men are well-known for came to pass. It is like looking into the early minds of genius and seeing the talent they had and what an awesome future awaited both them as their careers evolved, and evolved they had.
I had never read Violent Cases until this review, but I have heard many stories of it in my pursuit of good comic reads. I have heard both good and bad comments of this story. Some people think it to be amazing, while others, not so much. What I do see however is that everyone has an opinion of this work. That fact alone demonstrates its genius. Like any great artwork, it will have its lovers and haters.
As for this reviewer, I am a lover. Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean created an amazing work of art back in the 80’s, a jazz classic. They have since moved on to other things, but there is no denial that this early work, the first collaboration for these two, but not the last (Thank goodness for us fans) would be a sign of their greatness. I stand and give ovation to you both for such a fine graphic novel. I likewise give ovation to Dark Horse for this reissue as it hopefully will allow those younger folks the opportunity to see that comics can be a medium of grand artistic expression. It likewise allows older farts such as myself the chance to experience something that I had long since forgotten I could experience when reading a comic… a sense of awe and wonder. Well done.
Writer: Neil Gaiman Artist: Dave McKean Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $19.99 Release date: 11/13/13