Drawing Cool Stuff: The Creepy Fun Art of King CityA column article by: Michelle Six
Remember the stuff you liked to draw in third grade -- monsters, cityscapes, gadgets, cool outfits, kitties? Why did you draw these things? Because they were COOL! No further explanation was needed -- awesomeness was its own raison d'être.
Brandon Graham draws King City with this energy -- a brave and unabashed pursuit of comic coolness.
King City has had a strange run to print. Originally released by Tokyopop in 2007, the final issues hit the stands via Image in 2010. The massive 424-page tale was released in trade paperback this February, with a bonus section of color art. Recently, Graham has worked on Multiple Warheads with Oni Press and Prophet with Image.
Graham's style is an amalgamation of influences delivered in a consistent fashion. His people are a cross between European indie comics and Manga, with a '90s skate-punk vibe thrown in for flavor.
He creates a similarly multi-faceted expressive tone, combining the funny moments with disturbing undertones.
Visually, King City looks fun and pleasant. It has rounded shapes, light inking and mostly-even line weights.
Some of the imagery itself contains lighthearted gags and cute characters. In Chapter 9, for example, the protagonist, Joe, finds a Cosmopolitan-esque women's magazine. This simple prop becomes a joke, as we see Joe flip through it's absurd articles, including an ad for "Scent of the Walrus" perfume.
The slapstick personification of Joe's magical cat, Earthling J.J. Cattingworth III, constantly lightens the tone. We see the cat busting out tool-shaped claws like a Swiss army knife, being ridden like a skateboard (including a kickflip, err, "cat-flip") and eating toast.
The backdrop of King City paints a darker picture. Advertising is everywhere, with the "sex sells" philosophy taken to the extreme. Street vendors are constantly hocking creepy items like squid corpses and "drug knives." The characters' designs also have dark elements: Max is missing a leg and covered in roughly stitched scars, and Pete always wears a ski mask.
Graham's true skill as a visual storyteller lies in his ability to communicate via setting. His pages are reminiscent of Where's Waldo, with tiny details giving the observant viewer further insight. The City itself varies from a densely packed sensory overload in some scenes, to barren and lifeless in others, expressing the extremes of city life.
A lot of character development comes from these background details. Joe's room at the beginning of the comic is messy, but Spartan, visualizing the life of a laid-back vagabond. Pete's place, in contrast, is jam-packed with organized chaos. We learn of his character quickly through analyzing the myriad of books, inventions and papers tacked to the wall.
King City is a genre hybrid that is pure comic, in both writing and art. Brandon Graham has created a bizzaro modern society, in which every action movie trope has come true, but people still laugh at poop jokes.
Michelle was born in the '80s in a reasonably sized Midwestern town, which she never left. She teaches art and creative technology to kids, who keep her in the know about Top 40 music and the most annoyingly silly YouTube videos.
A big chunk of her free time is put towards drawing -- in her fantasy world, she will be awesome enough to draw comics as sweet as those she reviews. You can see her artwork on Deviant Art or, if you are a Tumblr fan at michellesix.tumblr.com.
Michelle also likes video games, pets, pizza, music and ranting.