King City's for everyone and no one, which is the weird, awesome place that pretty much all great art resides. Universal and rarefied at the same time, a kind of rorschach test for what floats your boat or something, pretty much everyone who reads King City--and they'll read it, it's strongest aspect might be just how easy is it is to read--comes out of the experience with different reasons to really, really, like it. To work all my favorites out would be quite an undertaking, but let's run through them kinda quickly...
Like I said before, it reads quick. This is much harder than one thinks, especially in a comic that's essentially moment-to-moment, with some vague rumblings of plot. More interested (as it should be) with small details, King City never feels confused or muddled. It's smart enough to know that plot is stupid. It's also chock full of real-life emotions, that just happen to be wrapped up in zombie wars and puns and sasquatch landlords. The moment where Graham elegantly flashes back to the first kiss, then the last, between main character Joe and then-girlfriend Anna, and wraps it up with her simple question, "Why didn't you try harder?" is devastating. A buncha pages later, Joe's friend Pete is sitting on a roof and its raining (like it was raining in that "Why didn't you try harder?" scene) holding a wad of "dirty money" like, what the fuck and you're also like, "What the fuck?". Damn. That's King City
Hopefully this wont be read as a negative (because I wholeheartedly mean it as a positive), but I must have read King City like three times before I actually realized it was a sci-fi comic. From the first page you're so into the world of Joe, the main character, that everything you're coming across seems as totally natural to you as it does to him. Lock-picking cat? Whatev. Sasquatch in a secret door? No biggie. It wasn't until a couple readings after I was like, oh yeah, none of that actually happens here. Bummer.
Another element that helps pull you completely into the world of King City is Brandon Graham's spot-on art. It's a perfect combination of future robot electro-shit plus the all junk you see on the street everyday and don't think twice about. The detail he puts into stuff like pipes, wires, and buildings makes you think King City must be real. And in a way, it almost is. It's clear Graham does a lot of reference work from real life to be able to add such life and detail to his environment, and for the same reason, I feel his characters are all one step away from being all of our friends, or at least some guy you kind of know. While dealing with extraordinary situations, they are all still totally real people.
Did I mention the cat?
There’s a reason it’s called King City. The location plays such an important role in the story that it's most certainly a character itself. Graham develops a city rich with details and thoughtful designs of buildings, trains, doors, keys, and even vending machines that aren’t just background but really hold inside them a life of their own. Atmosphere's important, but especially important in the rather rambling narrative of King City.
This focus on what's usually seen as extraneous detail fleshes out the vast, almost infinitely varied city, where anything could happen. The city, and its details, make the characters worries, hopes, and concerns seem like just one story of many currently going on. That's sense of something bigger is an important part of King City's tone. A constant reminder to the reader and the characters of the largeness of life.
As comics readers and science fiction fans, it’s hard to find something that’s “cool”, not all wrapped up in super nerd stuff. I don’t mean to say that sci-fi is a guilty pleasure of mine or something I’m embarrassed about, but I can’t get an “outsider” to read most of the books or comics I like because they are off-putting and weird to someone who doesn’t regularly read the genre.
King City sorta opens up those doors because Brandon Graham's comic has a deeply involved mythos, though inspired by everything from X-Men and Conan the Barbarian to Moebius and Dragon Ball, is brand new and instantly engaging too. Graham refers to wars we’ve never seen and old friends we’ve never met but already know--you don't need the explanation, you know because you're there. King City is where all of our childhood drawings of super humans and monsters go to grow up and become real people with jobs and relationships. It’s coming back to something you already know as an adult with bills and responsibility, but your imagination didn't get all fucked up.
Brandon Graham is indelibly linked to indie comics. In most cases, I'm not excited by small press/ indie stuff because I'm not partial to the art style or the content is gimmicky. However, very much so NOT the case with Graham. His art and his content come together to form his very own voice--what art is supposed to do--and I can honestly say I've never read anything that can quite contain the same space in my brain as King City. In the story, there is plenty of craziness going on: it's a sci-fi comic set in some fictional future location, there is an adorable super-cat, and funny friends. Even with all of this, somehow it's a really emotional story and just like real life, these elements of the story are just a backdrop for the secret, fucked-up longing for a certain female Joe experiences.
The seeing-and-reading nature of comics allows each part of the story to give off a certain feeling. With Joe's friends, it's just a goofy dude hang out that feels fun-- all the attitude contained in hilarious dialogue. The cat, while very useful and much like Joe's own personal Totoro, offering companionship, comfort and remedy, is a voiceless but really strong personality shown through BG's art. When ANNA (that girl) comes into the picture, it's like the realest shit ever. The longing of Joe comes to a head and bursts RIGHT BEFORE the end of the first trade, previously released by Tokyo Pop, leaving those emotionally connected to the story longing for Part 2.
King City is great in the way a lot of the best movies are great. Which isn’t to say that it’s particularly “cinematic”—Graham’s tendency to employ a fish-eye(cat's eye?) perspective to expand his cityscapes notwithstanding, King City is not a particularly cinematic comic. Rather, Graham’s opus eschews the second-rate pleasures of complicated plots in favor of a gradual layering of moment upon moment, incident upon detail-rich incident. Like films such as Edward Yang’s Yi Yi, or especially Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Graham’s narrative builds an incremental world that is personal without being exclusive and, as Brandon put it, at once universal and rarefied.
Reading King City is such an unalloyed pleasure because, for Graham, making comics is about putting together all of the things that make life beautiful into something that is meaningful and truly greater than the sum of its parts. While we recognize the allusions to European sci-fi comics, manga, street art and hip-hop, we are also keenly aware that we are dealing with something entirely new and wonderful. What else can you conclude about a comic that opens with a showdown on a moving train in which one of the combatants is felled by a powerfully flicked booger? But for all its absurdly perfect set-pieces and reflexive gags, King City still manages to say something about being young and in love and growing up and how our environment informs, or even defines a part of who we are.