Murder Book Vol. 3 by Ed Brisson, Johnnie Christmas, and Jason Copland
Full disclosure time. Ed is a friend of mine. Not a “Loan Each Other Money” type of friend, as much as I’m a “Watch Ed Get Really Drunk” type of friend. I know I’m that kind of friend, since I did it the other night. But I digress.
Up till now, Ed’s given away his Murder Book stories online for free, and then collected them as single issues. But with Volume 3, he decided to try something different, and used IndieGogo to fund the publication of his latest collection of crime stories in print first. It was a big success, and Volume 3 was officially released a few days ago
Now, if you’re saying “But you can’t be objective!”, I will say this….You’re probably right. But I think that once you read these mini-masterpieces for yourself, you’ll see that objectivity isn’t really a problem when you’re talking about storytelling as strong as this.
The Murder Book concept is simple: Unconnected stories about criminal events, all taking place in Vancouver. Or, if you prefer, terrible people doing terrible things to not-so-terrible people. There is somewhat of a shared world here, with characters in one story popping up in others, but you don’t need to read one volume to appreciate another, and they’re all of a stand-alone nature. Volume 3 features two separate stories: Fathers & Sons, pencilled by Jason Copland, and Midnight Walk, with art by Johnnie Christmas.
Fathers & Sons is starts out as a classic Murder Book story, in that the criminals here are of the mid-level, thuggish variety. They’re doing some collecting for Sandra, a crime boss we last saw in Volume Two. In Murder Books, that the criminals usually accomplish what they’re trying to do. If they’re murdering, they murder. If they’re robbing, they rob. Fathers & Sons turns out to be a departure from that, and these two fuck-ups fuck up so fucking bad that you can’t fucking believe what they fucking did. Fuck.
The thematic concepts that Brisson is exploring in this aren’t exactly subtle (check the title for spoilers), but they’re brutally effective. There are at least seven different terrible things that happen in this 18 page story, but Ed’s methodical, deliberate sense of pacing ensures that things never get cluttered, and that we always have enough panels to be suitably horrified before the next awful piece of violence comes along.
Jason Copland’s work here was a pleasant surprise..not because I don’t expect great work from him (check out http://review2akill.com/2010/11/19/kill-all-monsters/ for more examples of his excellent work), but because I haven’t really seen him do anything this down to earth before. His style reminds me of a cross between Terry Moore and Carla McNeil, with a healthy dose of David Mazzuchelli’s early work thrown in. This was probably the most violent and despicable crime comic I’ve read so far this year. But then I turned the page.
Ed says that he’s never done anything to a character as bad as what happens to our “hero” in Midnight Walk, and I would say that’s an understatement. A drunken carouser named Ray is stumbling through Trout Lake on his way home when he comes across a dead body. And that’s the last good thing that happens to Ray that night. Midnight Walk is tonally quite different from Fathers & Sons, in that there’s a randomness to this story that is a little atypical of most Murder Book shorts. It works on every single level, but there is definitely a tonal shift here, and because of that the stories complement each other nicely.
I first discovered Johnnie Christmas’ work in the first Exploded View anthology that came out a few years ago, and it’s nice to see how much his work has evolved since then. His backgrounds are absolutely creepy, and they sets a great stage for hyper-detailed, almost kinetic style. He seems to have shed some of the Paul Pope influence that I remember in the other work of his that I’ve seen, but that might just be the subject mater.
You know how when you discover writers or artists that you really like, like Ed Brubaker, or Frank Quitely? You try to track down everything they ever did. You keep going, farther and farther back. There’s some great stuff at first, but then you finally go back far enough and find their earliest work, until you can’t believe that someone whose work you love SO much could possibly turn out such dreck?
Well, that won’t be a problem here. It’s pretty obvious that all three of these guys are going to be talked about in the comics world for a long time, and if they’re doing comics at this level NOW, I can’t wait to see what they come up with when they’re grizzled veterans.
If you find a better crime comic in 2012, I’ll stumble around drunk in Trout Lake. After dark.