Comics Creator Column #01: Alex de Campi and “Ashes”

by Tauriq Moosa

SmokeThis will be the first in, so far, a four-part series where I will be (reviewing the work of and) talking to comics creators. My aim is to provide an insight into the medium and the creative process, as well as exclusive interviews with some of the most talented people in the medium. This is mainly aimed at comic writers, rather than artists since that’s what I am (trying to be). In many instances, this is also an obvious plea for you, the readers, to help support this industry via the very creators who are doing the hard-work to produce quality. If you’re fed up with stagnant stories, stale characters and stereotypes (i.e. so much of the superhero genre), then these are the very people we need to be supporting.

The comics industry is a strange beast. Some view it as squatting in-between word-exclusive prose books and full-motion films. Lately, it has been the latter that’s been appropriating comics’ offspring – with Watchmen, Spider-Man, and The Walking Dead all appearing on the silver or television screen. Yet, viewing comics as nestled in-between prose and films is too simplistic a view of the medium, which has, for too long, become entangled in the webs and capes of superheroes. Indeed, many simply equate the comic medium with the superhero genre, which is like equating fiction books with only Dan Brown’s, um, ‘writing’. This does not mean the superhero genre is bad, but that the medium is not limited to one genre. Whether it’s the horror and drama of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, Alan Moore’s complex investigation into psychopathy, Jack the Ripper and the history of England in From Hell, Neil Gaiman’s fantastical Sandman, or, my current focus, Alex de Campi’s mature, dystopian and elegantly-narrated Smoke, we have amazing stories wonderfully placed utilising the full extent of sequential art and words.

Comics elicit awe and wonder in the way art as a whole is (sometimes) meant to. It can be as simple as beautiful artwork – open any page of Gaiman and McKean’s Mr Punch to view the genius of Dave McKean – or amazing narration – Jamie Delano’s writing in John Constantine Hellblazer is better than most novels I’ve read. But, truly, it is the mixture of the two that shows what this medium can do. Alan Moore’s work uses everything the page offers to highlight his themes. Whether we are watching the Earth from space, as the narration compares the spinning of the earth to the idea of not having a hold on life (as he did in an issue of Swamp Thing); or whether we are watching a young man read a comic about pirates while, in his reality, men of power try usurp people’s freedom (in Watchmen); Moore and his art team utilise economy of words and illustration to tell powerful stories.

The friction of words and pictures ignites many themes. The trouble is, if not used correctly, it can therefore also completely destroy them.

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