Despite what the comic intelligensia tell you, neither Alan Moore nor Neil Gaiman are the best graphic novellists of the past twenty years. ‘Sandman’ is vastly over-rated (except the fantastic ‘Brief Lives’ sequence, and yes, I do understand it, now go stand in your corner you proto-goth-pseud) and Alan Moore went off the boil around ‘Stormwatch’, which was…awful. The best, or at least most consistently astounding comic author of the past generation is, without contest, Warren Ellis.
I think I first came across his writing in the seminal political opera that was ‘Doom 2099’. A forlorn, unloved Marvel book, but the writing struck me as fantastic. (And even the art for the last run of the book took on its own brilliance.) An English writer, certainly something special. So fast forward quite a few years and here he is, producing something that is altogether unique. And expensive. Ten of those Great British Pounds for a single forty page, single story, singular book. It has an introduction from William Gibson, praise enough to start with. It has D’Israeli art, for those readers of a certain age, praise enough to start with. And it was written by Ellis, which is always enough for me.
So aside from the rabid fanboi in me, what does this deliver for the money? Black and white, rampant paranoid security agencies losing precious gadgetry. (Oh, Universal Exports, how I loved seeing your sign there.) So far, so…generic. But if you have read anything of Warren’s, you will know it will be so far from that. Inventive, creative tech, oddball characters not quite fleshed out (it is only forty pages) begging for some backstory, more backstory, more story.
Which leads me to what I have been avoiding mentioning. There is a reason for the cost. There is a reason for only forty pages. But mentioning it without weaving in some story of my own just isn’t my way, let me meander for a paragraph. Back when I was chasing girls (in a different way that I do now), very few were…appreciative of graphic literature. Or some were, but not of the graphic literature which involved speech bubbles. Very few enjoyed this with me, but then again, very few enjoyed aching hip bands you won’t have heard of. Or staying up to 3am with me just so I could show them the austere beauty of the craters of the moon, or resolving double stars. But certainly not baby comics with the thoughts encased in clouds.
But SVK is slightly different. Not only do you get this limited print run of an indie book, produced lovingly in London, it comes with a torch. Yes, this torch has text on it that fits in with the story, as does even the sticker on the acid-free polybag (with rigid cardboard insert) that is shipped with. To save the comic-geek in you having to do it yourself, while trying not to spoil the sealing sticker. A torch. Press the button, oh look, shiny, shiny purple light. Purple..light. That would be ultra-violet, no? Which when you shine on certain panels reveals…more. Ambient thoughts, added meat to the story. (Personally the old hobo with a beard mumbling ‘boobs boobs boobs’ on the tube was a little too close to home for comfort…) But it is a neat device. Sure, it is only a gimmick, but you see what he was trying to achieve, and achieve he did. You could go further into the comic, even after reading, shining on the fake adverts dotted around, seeing what you can find.
There is the usual violence, the usual wisecracks, the usual (though in the grand scheme of comics, unusual) wit and verve. And there is ultraviolet. There are a couple of essays, and the whole package is just classy. Heavy paper, lovingly produced. And the ultraviolet ink isn’t cheap, which is why it is so expensive. The first print run sold out in 48 hours, and deservedly so. I am sure it would be prohbitively expensive to produce a whole TPB in this way, but damn, I would be tempted to pick it up. The story contains some many ideas you want him to write more, to see where he goes with it.
This is a writer who knows his medium, controls his medium and has fun with his medium. Sure, it isn’t the book to get your boyfriend or girlfriend to change their mind about comics, sure it is the book to wind your wife up when she finds out that it was a tenner, but I am sure it is a great book. Sure, the ultraviolet reveals are a gimmick, albeit a funny, inventive one, but it sure all adds up to something special. Something short, but something special.
Go get SVK.