COMIC REVIEW: Turf

 

I can’t tell you how chuffed I was when this chunky book arrived in the post.  I’d heard about Turf from Geek Syndicate: knew it was a mash up of monsters and aliens in old New York; knew it was written by Jonathon Ross and seriealised in CLiNT – and I’d heard that it was pretty damn fine, all things considered.  Of course, living out in the sticks with bugger-all access to comics I wasn’t expecting to actually get to read it any time soon.  Well, the hard-cover trade is finally out in the shops and it looks Drop Dead Gorgeous.  Unfortunately it’s also twenty quid, and I’m not exactly rolling in cash…  Luckily the GS boys had a copy and wanted someone to review it for the website.

Haaaa-lei-lu-liah!  (Ahem, sorry about that.)

So anyway, here’s why you should go out and buy a copy – or at least put it on your Christmas list.  (Underlined.  Next to the words ‘This one please.’)

Remember when you were little, and you’d play games with your friends or brothers or sisters?  You’d pull together any old toys you had to hand and make up a story using them.  Sometimes you’d try to figure out a reason that they might all be together but more often than not that just didn’t matter.  These were the best games and somehow, at the time, no films or books could quite match them for sheer magic and breadth of imagination.

Jonathon Ross has managed to capture that lightning in a bottle.  He’s snatched up a handful of classic vamps, a gangster or two from the old black & white Sunday flicks, a feisty cub reporter out to make a name for herself and… ooh, yeah… a ruddy great space alien with a massive hand cannon – cool! – and he’s carefully lined them up, ready to pit them against each other in brutal combat for the sheer unbridled joy of it.

In many ways this is exactly what comics should be all about.  It’s exciting.  It’s fun.  It has heart and it has guts.  It has artwork to die for and a story that fizzes along.  Although the basic set-up could have leapt fully formed from a six-year-old, the storytelling is anything but childish.  Leaping from perspective to perspective we begin to piece together the story in a way that feels organic and natural.  Heroes and villains alike get their say, and none are monochrome.  Whilst violence and sexual predation fill the book, it is never in a titillating fashion.  It is plain from the outset that vampires and alien alike are little different in their savagery and motivations to the gangsters and innocent humans caught up in the struggle.  Indeed, Falco and Gregori (the lead male characters) are as much at war with their own violent natures as with the invading force.

The art work is rough, dirty even.  At first it took me aback, but the more I got into the tale the more it felt just… right.  We’re back in the 1930’s after all.  Poverty is rife.  Amidst the squalor folks try to retain some life, with bootleg liqour and smoky jazz rooms, but it’s all a thin veneer.  Grime covers everything, both literally and metaphorically.  Carved up by the gangs, watched over by a corrupt police force, this is a damned and dirty city.   Tommy lee Edwards uses thick lines and rough shadows that swallow detail without swamping the page.  He shows enough to give the piece a strong sense of place without painstaking and distracting detail.  There is a real sense of life in his people.  He really knows faces and in crowd scenes even a scratchy line can perfectly capture the expression in an eye or the set of a mouth in grim determination.  If I had to use one word to describe his style I would say ‘moody.’  The colour palette is dark browns, blues and reds, with yellow lights and a bright alien green, used sparingly.  In all, it fits nicely with the murky morality of a mobster movie or film noir.  I was also very impressed with how the pages were put together.  The panels are always easy to follow and of a good size.  Plenty of space for artist to work in, luxurious to see compared to many of the bittier comics I’ve read of late.  Where the layouts are more complex the speech bubbles are used to great effect, giving a clear pathway through the imagary.  I’ve seen this done wrong so many times over the years that it’s a genuine pleasure to see it done well.

A quick word about Squeed, the bizarre yet awesome alien who stumbles into all this.  What a dude.  He’s a properly alien character with his own language, backstory and motivations.  Dumped into this batshit crazy situation, he just deals with it in the only way he knows.  With firepower.  He looks amazing.  He has some fucked-up looking organic equipment (/pets?), he’s both funny and tragic, looks absolutely incredible in a trenchcoat and hat and he kicks all kinds of arse.

The other stand out character is our cub reporter, a truly independent, intelligent and impressive woman caught up in one helluva story.  She’s like Lois Lane before she worked up to the Daily Planet – all fire and instinct and devil-may-care.  I really hope Ross brings her back if he chooses to do a follow up book (and judging by the last panel there’s a good chance that he will).

The book hit all the right notes for me first time around with just one exception (though unfortunately it’s a biggie).  It’s the vampires.  In a world of tough gangsters and real hard times it’s hard to swallow these ultra-traditional aristocratic Romanian vampires, floating serenely through the skies.  They just seemed to strike a bum chord.  Give me the feral type or the savvy modern type and they could fit in, but here they just seemed to stick out as just a bit too close to the stereotype.  It didn’t spoil the story too much.  In fact, the further I got into the book the more I grew to accept them.  They represent the extremes of mankind, at once far more refined and proud than the proles of New York, whilst harbouring a (vividly depicted) savagery.  I just wish they didn’t look quite so floaty or speak with such a heavy and hammy accent.  They knock it down to a mere…

4/5

GS Reviewer: Dion Winton-Polak
You can hear me blather about books on Scrolls, the podcast for literary geekdom here on the Geek Syndicate Network.
Follow me on Twitter @Dion_Scrolls too if you like.

 

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