King City by Brandon S. Graham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
If you’ve ever sat at a railroad crossing and wondered where those boxcars got tagged in vibrant colors and an apparently alien language, the answer is on a siding in King City. King City is Gotham meets China Mievelle’s New Crobuzon. It’s Scott Pilgrim’s stomping grounds with more grit, sex, space aliens, and zombies. It’s the Uglyverse for grown-ups.
Joe is a Cat Master, trained to use his super-genius cat in countless different ways as a living weapon. He’s come back home to King City, where it seems everyone is a spy or ninja or graphic artist and the streets are all marked and re-marked with past battles and advertising. There is a Demon King that needs to be stopped, but the story actually revolves around Joe helping his friend become a hero and saving his ex-girlfriend’s lover from an addiction to chalk. The anti-climax of the story works: King City is a place where you know a hundred epic struggles are playing out in the background, but Joe has come home and learned to grow up.
The art is a paradoxical blend of cartoon and grime. It fits the city Graham creates, which in certain panels resemble the bizarre lovechild of a Where’s Waldo page and a Mad Magazine spread. The entire book is black-and-white, but you almost don’t notice. The electric detail of each image makes your mind supply the color without thought or effort. King City is vividly colorful, and you remember it so. It’s also pleasingly surreal in its position on the junction of fantasy, noir, and sci-fi.
It’s not for kids. None of the images are explicit, but there are seedier places in the city (where most of the time is spent) where you can get anything you want for the right price: knives, drugs, sex. A drug-knife you can have sex with. King City can be a rough place.
But keep your cat close, and things will probably be alright.