Brandon Graham’s ‘King City’

I’ve just finished reading this – King City by Brandon Graham – and it’s the best £15 I’ve spent on a book in a while. Graham’s style is a mix of Manga, sci-fi and playful punning gone mad. There are more ideas nestling in one page of Graham’s work than in some whole comic strips, he seems to shed them ten to the dozen, not only in the story narrative but also in the background details, graffiti and incidental characters who just so happen to be sharing a panel at any given moment.

King City is about a cat master called Joe, a cat master being someone trained to use their personal cat in any number of incredible ways in any number of different situations. He’s an expert lock-picker who gets coerced into secret missions by Beebay, the mysterious leader of the street gang, the Owls. He’s also pining for his ex-girlfriend, Anna, who has her own story going on across town involving a new boyfriend who’s addiction to chalk is slowly destroying him. Joe also hangs out with his best friend, Pete, who goes on similar covert missions in a range of masks and has his own problems. The stories intertwine but also meander along, taking breaks to flashback to events past or just take time out for incidental scenes that flesh out the characters or the city.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg though, what you get is a sense of a fully formed world that will be rewarded by repeated reads and could be infinitely expanded outside of these characters. As well as the wealth of detail in the city streets it occasionally throws up a crossword, a join the dots panel or a full double page game spread complete with cut out characters. Graham’s style is unique to me although I’m guessing that if I was well read in the Manga department then I would be able to draw some frames of reference. The overall tone feels like a perfect composite of American, Asian and Alien (is that a triple A rating?) and it’s truly a breath of fresh air, much the same as his ongoing sci-fi series, Prophet, which similarly blew my mind last year.

King City is a lighter affair though, similar to his recent Multiple Warheads 4-issue run for Image, largely due to being shot through with punning wordplay in almost every panel (seriously, if you find puns the lowest form of wit then stay away). Once you get used to the way he structures things though it’s a definite page turner and, weighing in at over 400 pages, you definitely get your money’s worth with all the original single issue covers, back up stories and such to add to the mix.

For me the weirdest thing about King City is that I hadn’t ever seen or heard of it on my regular trips to comic shops before. This is so up my street but until last year when the collection was released it had completely gone under my radar, Had I seen a copy on a shelf it would have immediately been the sort of thing I’d have picked up. Considering the first issue debuted in 2009 and the last in 2010, with this collection arriving nearly a year ago I really need to be a bit more alert.

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