This week I’ll be covering Issue #2 of I Kill Giants published by Image Comics, written by Joe Kelly with art by JM Ken Nimura. I’ll be discussing the entirety of the series, as well as its big reveal, so if you haven’t had the good fortune to read this series yet I strongly urge you to do so before reading this post.
By navigating the revelations this series has to offer outside their intended context you’ll be robbed of one of the most moving journeys in comics you can take. With that caveat, I’m going to assume anyone who ventures behind the cut has read the series before.
As the series progresses we see Barbara interacting with more and more myth and wonder; fairies, gnomes and, at the climax, giants. As the narrative unfurls we learn these creatures and Barbara’s interactions with them may be a signpost of something darker lurking in her psyche, a distraction or a coping mechanism for something untoward in her everyday life.
The figure of Barbara dominates the opening panel here, really showcasing the fantastic simplicity and suggestion her character design connotes. We know Barbara isn’t like a typical girl her age. She has a wicked tongue, a dark sense of humour and an intense intelligence that spills over into emotional outbursts that are shocking in their suddeness and sharpness.
Her glasses are exaggerated, big and round. Depending on what the scene calls for the eyes can be sad, angry or missing entirely, cutting her off to us emotionally, even making her look alien. Here the glasses show us nothing but white, perhaps suggesting some kind of relaxation or peace. Or maybe they suggest that Barbara is ‘elsewhere’, lost in prayer, lost in thought and fictions.
Nimura and Kelly also have Barbra wear different sets of animal ears throughout the book. As well as creating a distinctive and varied silhouette for Barbara, it also separates her from the rest of the character, suggesting an otherness to her that the rest of the cast doesn't understand or possess.
There’s a strange atmosphere in the opening panel, one that permeates the entire narrative. At first, it’s never stated whether those images on Barbara’s blanket are actually there, whether they’re drawn on or are merely the products of Barbara’s imagination. There are scenes in the book where Barbara sees the very same drawings in the sky and on the walls of her high school. Sometimes they look like drawings, other times they’re fully formed characters with voice and personalities.
This creates a kind of tension between the narrative of Barbara’s everyday world and the creatures present at the edges of the frame or on the blanket behind her. There is a void between the narrative and the visuals we’re seeing. It’s the same void that exists at the heart of Barbara’s mind, blocking out her trauma, something she won’t face head on until the story reaches its climax.
At it’s heart, this is what I Kill Giants is all about. It’s about using fiction and stories to cope with loss or trauma. Barbara uses the external threats of powerful giants and titans to distract her from something she cannot control, stop or change. When faced with something unstoppable, something intangible, fiction is sometimes a more palpatable reality to digest.
A week or so ago I got the bad news that someone close had passed away – cancer, and the third funeral in the space of twelve months. Then it’s suddenly several days later and I have to try and pick something to talk about this week. I reached for Maus initially (as good as that work is, I’m chalking it up to a lucky miss) but then reached for I Kill Giants instead. I’d thought about covering it before, and hadn’t read it since its original release back in 2008, so details of the plot were sketchy to me. I knew it was about a young girl using stories of giants and other mythical creatures as a means of coping with some kind of emotional trauma, but the specifics were lost to time.
So I started reading, my eyes latching onto the image that begins Issue #2. It conveys so much the way in which a good story can compel us to sit there in our beds, a flashlight at hand because we need to know how it ends. We chase the untangibles of the narrative until they reveal their secrets.
So, at this point, I decide I may as well finish it. It’s almost one in the morning and I’m reading by a tiny, crappy booklight with shadows dancing off the walls, and it isn’t lost on me that I’m mirroring the very panel I’ve chosen. It’s only as I begin to reach the end of the story that Barbara’s secret begins to come back to me – her mother is dying from cancer.
And then I remember how it ends.
I marvel at Nimura’s beautiful artwork as Barbara takes on the titan, reading on as all of that spectacle falls away and I’m left with the image of a little girl holding a hammer twice her size as she wonders aloud about a topic she’s been wrestling with since we met her – her mother is dying from cancer:
“There isn’t anything I could have done…was there?”I’d chased the untangible and the story had revealed its secrets to me for a second time.
Sometimes we forget. But the story always ends the same, and we’re always stronger than we think.