Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

  • Music:

The Originals, Dave Gibbons.

When you write about Dave Gibbons, you reference, in one way or another, his artwork on Watchmen. Even if it's just mentioning that Gibbons illustrated the seminal graphic novel. It's instant cred, instant notice, the sign that makes people who don't read graphic novels look up.

Well, there's the mention.

I hope it makes people read this post, at the very least, because Gibbons, working as both writer and illustrator (and letterer and colourist) deserves an audience for the Originals and his next work.

Set in a retro-futuristic industrial city, the Originals follows the exploits of two teenagers, Lel and Bok, who join up with a gang called, you guessed it, the Originals. It's a good gang name, but I suppose you can only mention it so many times close together. Anyhow, the plot of the book is your basic boys-in-a-gang-throw-in-a girl-and-a-friend-who-wants-to-be-just-like-them-and-the-rival-gang-conflict story. It joins the ranks of coming of age/teen angst/gang stories that can be found in movies like the Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause. You could even argue that Gibbons' decision to render the graphic novel in greys and blacks and whites, rather than colour, is a reflection of these influences.

But then you would have to explain the hover bikes.

I mean, there are no hover bikes in the Wild One. There's no futuristic world. Maybe there should have been, but there wasn't.

In the Originals there are, however, hover bikes to spare. Which is a fine thing because there's no denying the retro cool to Gibbons' design of the hover bikes, and their arrival on the scene in a beautiful two page spread is one of the finest moments in the book. Before this, I have to admit, I'd never really considered the idea that hover bikes could be cool, but there is no denying the beauty and joy of them in Gibbons' work. That in itself, however, is the problem. The industrial, retro-futuristic world that he presents is really only defined by hover bikes and hover cars and a domed city later. There's not much else to define it beyond that, and when those things are not in scene, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was London in the fifties and sixties, where men wore pin striped suits and the women short skirts. The result of this is that in the end the world that Gibbons' presents visually doesn't quite hold together. It flows smoothly under his sequential direction, but from page to page you drop in and out of the retro futurism.

Luckily, however, the graphic novel has much more going for it. Gibbons' skill as a writer is connected to his considerable talent as an artist, and the two work to provide a beautifully paced and narrated book. It's almost flawless in this--shit, it may even be flawless. Lel's narration doesn't trip over itself from the moment the book begins, and he says, "Me and Bok couldn't wait to finish school. To say goodbye to the old buildings, to the old teachers, the old lessons."

It's clear, sharp, and aided by panel layouts and spacing. It's a joy to sit down and simply turn the pages of the Originals, to let Gibbons' narration guide you to the end. It is, however, a shame that the plot doesn't take some twists where it could have, but the characters of Lel and Bok and Viv hold their place well against the well trod plot, and despite your familiarity with what will happen to them, there is still a sense of pathos at the end, which is more than I can say for a lot of things I read.

In the end the Originals is, despite faults, a success. Unlike a lot of work out there, that means it's entirely worth your cash.

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