Monday, 19 December 2011

Comic classics: Blood

Kent William's and JM DeMatteis's Blood is a visual classic even if the plot is never quite fully involved or realised. The characters drift around on a sparse almost invisible plain weaving together fantastical and mythical elements that don't quite match. The plot outline if you ignore all the meandering diversions, is fairly basic, but the structure is slightly jerky in places and feels like it has deliberate gaps, which could add to the overall mystical and ethereal quality of the story.

Visually Williams belongs to the 'painterly' school of comic artists who take a fine art approach and spin it violently on its head: Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave McKean, Ashley Wood, Ben Templesmith, and Melinda Gebbie with her magnum opus Lost Girls all spring to mind. The majority of these artists acknowledge a debt to whole range of classic artists (Sienkiewicz evokes Klimt in Stray Toasters and Williams quotes Egon Schiele (both literally and through his brush strokes) in Blood). But they also owe a great deal to master illustrator Barren Storey whose illustrated journal experiments are great insight into the huge potential for the fine arts and comics collision (as well as the extensive use of collage and the endless borrowing/stealing from a whole range of other source materials be they high brow or low brow, you can read more on Storey here).
Blood also has a striking similarity to the look of a comic from the Vertigo line (the indie offshoot of DC) even down to the limited palette of colours (flesh tones, reds, earthy yellows browns and greens) and the lettering bears a striking resemblance to the lettering used in Stray Toasters(*1)

Williams is less about the collage effects and photoshop trickery of McKean, and the schizophrenic switches in style that Sienkiewicz employs so I guess out of all the artist he would be considered the closest to a 'classicist' with his use of ink and wash and controlled but by no means restrictive watercolours, his exploration of the two main characters bodies is at times like a life drawing class/anatomy lesson. There are however moments when his art is more scratchy and free to match the internal violence of the story, splashes of paint, thinner sketchier lines etc.

It's the frequent nudity of the two main character's that help to take this vampire story out of the cliched realm. There is an Adam and Eve, beginning of the world feel to it all, and although they appear much more evolved there is something slightly prehistoric, caveman like about it all (this is probably down to the sparse landscapes and indeed the caves).

Blood is a hybrid of multicultural myth and superstition: witch doctors, Indian gurus, fantastic lands with simplistic descriptive names, an element of Greek myth, a cloud of awe around the female maternal body, a primitive brooding force, a journey, all topped up with the strange floating figure in a space suit that is a typical Sienkiewicz style device(*2). The way in which he draws the imposing force of the other vampires seems like it could have been a big influence on the way Ben Templesmith came to draw his vampires in 30 Days Of Night (particularly in the way he draws their mouths/teeth).

Stray Toasters is very dark and darkly comic at that, whereas Blood (although not without its dark undertones) tries to add love to the vampire myth, love and resistance to the hunger, without all the horrible sparkling skin of Twilight. There is a brief moment too where Blood is jarred into the real world and becomes embroiled with everyday worries including jobs, relationships, and eventually cancer, and these concerns are written and drawn about in such a way that they seem not to be a mirror to the central action of the story but a metaphorical parallel. I guess mentioning Greek myths is fairly appropriate as the whole thing does read both in its visual and written elements like a Greek tragedy about vampires. Classical yet distinctly modern, Blood is a shining example of why an injection of the fine art approach in comics doesn't always mean that comic will be stifled and boring.

(*1)Thanks to the magic of the internet I searched the letterer Gaspar Saladino and found out that he is a 50 year veteran of comic book lettering and his work for Dave McKean's Arkham Aslyum, Bill Sienkiewicz and Frank Miller's Elektra Assasian, and Sandman Mystery Theatre, has very much helped established the look of slightly off-kilter takes on the superhero genre.
(*2)Both Elektra Assassin and Stray Toasters feature incomplete half human half machine figures although in Blood this figure is not a threatening one but childlike and innocent.

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