Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Story and Art by Tom Scioli
Published by AdHouse Books
Scioli wears his influences on his sleeve. The main one being, quite obviously, Kamandi but there are large doses of Conan, He-Man and Mad Max added to the pot also. The feeling of a positive nostalgia is inescapable, particularly with the purposeful yellowing of the pages, making them look like pages from a late silver age comic that you have rediscovered in your loft. In fact, the only tell tale sign that this is a modern book is in Scioli’s surprisingly humourous dialogue. Far from being out and out comedy, the humour in American Barbarian is subtle yet never fails to raise a chuckle, particularly when thought bubbles are used to show what is going on in Meric’s head. A personal favourite is when he realises that Uli and Ullson are in fact brothers and sisters rather than lovers and Meric thinks ‘Thank the god’s of my fathers, I thought that douche was her boyfriend.’ Possibly not that funny in a real world setting, but in a post-post apocalyptic world? Hilarious.
Using a flat, bright colour palette, Scioli has given American Barbarian look that wouldn’t be too out of place in an Eighties Saturday morning cartoon, making the announcement of DC’s new Master’s of the Universe series and the creators involved seem completely moot. (Not to write off a book before it has even been released but how amazing would Scioli be on He-Man?)
Apart from the obvious stylistic choice, there are two things that make this book and in turn Scioli’s approach to art a love letter to the greatest comic artist of all time. First up, all of his characters are drawn with a manic energy and an urgency that is pure Kirby, threatening to jump off the page at any given moment. Even when talking to each other the characters look like we are half a second behind them leaping into action. Secondly and arguably most importantly, like Jack, Scioli is an idea machine. Literally every page will have an idea, or a character, or an inventive panel layout, or even a line of dialogue that will have you marvelling at his creativity. This, even more than the playful artistic homage to him, is the sort of thing that Kirby wanted out of the creators that came after him.
As is the norm for the publisher, AdHouse have gone over and beyond the call of duty with the presentation of American Barbarian. Smaller than regular comic size yet larger than the digest format, the book is wrapped in a beautifully sturdy hard cover with, echoing another AdHouse book Afrodisiac, just a shot of Meric’s battle ready face, sans words, on the front cover. The cover, even without words, dares you not to pick the book up and have a look inside and succeeds in making American Barbarian stand out from the rest of the product on the shelves. Once again Chris Pitzer and the guys at AdHouse have shown themselves to be the little publisher that could. Their output is small but every one of their releases, regardless of genre, have been of the highest quality. The AdHouse logo, like the Fantagraphics ‘F.B.I’ and Top Shelf’s Olive, is quickly becoming a sure sign of great comics.
Verdict – Buy It
Yes, you can read it online for free, but when a presentation is this beautiful why would you want to? Scioli isn’t breaking any new ground but he is fully aware that being dare I say it, fun, is an intrinsic part of comics and he nails it with a panache that few have. A lot of creators, and publishers for that matter, could learn from Scioli. An irony as his greatest influence was the man that created the vast majority of characters that said publishers are using to rehash the same old stories time and time again. With American Barbarian, Tom Scioli has created something that is new, has legs and is entirely his own. And that would have made Jack proud.