[Interview] Ben McCool – Whippin’ Up Comics!

If you’re a regular passenger on Spaceship OL, chances’re pretty good that your a bit of a comics fan. And if that’s the case, you’ve probably seen the name Ben McCool poppin’ up over the last few years. Unless, of course, you’re a genuine turkey. But let’s assume that this is a turkey-free zone, shall we?

The writer of MEMOIR and CHOKER (amongst others), Ben McCool has quickly established himself as a burgeoning force of nature in the sequential art ecosystem. Yes, it’s true that a viscous oil of staid storytelling may pump through the veins of the comic medium. But McCool takes a stab at narrative resuscitation by mainlining a cocktail of novelty, originality, daring, and genuine entertainment directly into the heart.

Yes, I am a fan of Ben McCool.

In fact, I recently found myself sending the British-born scribe a set of questions that I’d conjured up during a moment of half-inebriated super-confidence. To my delight, McCool pleasantly responded! What a gentleman! Hit the jump to check an exchange which includes an exploration of the comic book career path, some insight into what inspires creativity, the sharing of a truly filthy haiku, and plenty more!

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Images & Words – Choker #3

Choker 3

[images & words is the comic book pick-of-the-week at OL. equal parts review and diatribe, the post highlights the most memorable/infuriating/entertaining book released that wednesday]

Spoilers Ahead. Forreal.

Images & Words is once again taking a stroll through the streets of Shotgun City. It’s a futuristic slum, a place where even impressive technological advances cannot push against the tide of mediocrity known as the human condition. A diseased corpse wrapped in LED lights. It is a sociological ecotone, a convergence of possibility and failure that is bound to bewilder any visitor.

And it couldn’t be any more beautiful.

This is might be why I love Choker so much. It seems to be that the stories I become most invested incorporate the setting as an integral component of the narrative structure, as opposed to arbitrarily settling for any location. Sometimes the setting is so important that it becomes the crux of the story, such as with the island in LOST or the eponymous ship of Battlestar Galactica. Other times, settings make subtle suggestions that readers pick up on without even knowing it; the barren dunes of Tattooine reflect Luke Skywalker’s inexperience, whereas Death Star 2 represents the chipping away at Darth Vader’s once impenetrable heart of darkness.

So as I walk through Shotgun City, my visitor’s map is pissed on from a fourth-story fire escape, I just laugh. “Wow, that old lady’s got great aim!” And then I notice that her impeccable shot can be chalked up to night vision goggles and a laser-guided rocket-catheter. What a fucking world this is!

To be fair, maybe it’s inappropriate of me to pass off my hallucinations, my romps through fictional elseworlds, as a comic book review. But once you’ve consumed enough caffeine to reach Omega Level, reality and fiction become interchangeable terms, travel guides and reviews become synonymous, and definitive concepts are forfeited in favor of the indefinite but undeniable. And so, I pour more Rockstar Recovery into my system, gaze up at toppling skyscrapers of Shotgun City, and continue my trek.

Making my way through the dense concrete jungle, I learn all sorts of tidbits about its inhabitants. For instance, it turns out that some employees of the Shotgun City Police Department are eligible for Man Plus, a procedure that endows participants with superhuman strength. That is, of course, when it goes according to plan.

Unfortunately, Detective Johnny Jackson’s operation did not go quite so smoothly. As he was informed after awaking from surgery,

Those impervious to the enhancement properties have instead cultivated some very undesirable results. Manifestations of pre-existing conditions I’ve seen before, though not to this extent…But then I’ve never before encountered a genuine case of alien hand syndrome, let alone a transmutation of it.

Ah, so I see…that’s why Jackson’s left hand occasionally tries to shoot him in his sleep or choke him to death. It’s all making sense!

My daytrip also finds me overhearing explanations for the misandry of Flynn Walker, Jackson’s surly partner. Jackson’s associate Royce Davies provides some gory details;

I mean, you heard about her husband, right? Catching him in bed with her sister and best pal…? There’s even rumors that her mother was in on it. Pretty fucked up, huh?

With that being said, Walker’s rage comes in handy from time to time. Combined with her Man Plus, this unadulterated aggression helps her fend off a bunch of Marilyn Manson-looking teenage attackers…who can fly. I see her take out these gothic avengers, these outsiders who declare that “It’s all different now: the bullied have become the bullies. And we’re really, really in the mood to hurt people.”

Right before I board my bus outta Shotgun City, I see a fucking freakazoid tearing people limb from limb at the police department. Hell, even Walker and her aforementioned abilities can’t lay the fucker out. I suppose Johnny Jackson might have to step up to plate, so hopefully I can see him do something wonderful during my next visit.

Choker #3 is entitled Down These Mean Streets a Bastard Must Go. I agree. If you like comic books and have yet to visit Shotgun City, consider yourself at a disadvantage. Go buy this goddamn comic.

Images & Words – Choker #2

Choker 2

[images & words is the comic book pick-of-the-week at OL. equal parts review and diatribe, the post highlights the most memorable/infuriating/entertaining book released that wednesday]

Spoilers Ahead. Forreal.

The second issue of Choker has hit stands and my nerd-tummy is churning and bubbling… With excitement! The first issue pushed the reader right into Shotgun City, the neo-slum that makes Blade Runner’s Los Angeles step back and say, “Hrm…Maybe I’m not so ugly. Let’s go buy jeans so the boys notice our butts!” Alongside, Detective Johnny Jackson, the reader is thrust into a search for Hunt Cassidy, the sociopathic drug dealer referred to as a prince among bastards.

As one would expect, the narrative continue to develop in this new installment. Jackson is still down on his luck, the bad guy is still at large, and Shotgun City is still a shithole. But we’re starting to get glimpses into the reality of the terror at hand, realizing just how worse for the wear the cast of characters are.

For instance…the black glove on Jackson’s left hand? It slips off while he’s sleeping to reveal a mangled, disgusting mess. A mangled, disgusting mess that grabs a gun and tries to shoot the hero until he can stab it with a sedative. Shit’s bizarre/I fucking loves it.

This second issue of the McCool/Templesmith collaboration also introduces a saucy female partner for Johnny Jackson. Her name is Kara Thrace. Whoops, my bad! I mean to say that her name is Walker. But really, if you’re familiar with BSG’s resident lady-badass, then you certainly know Walker. When we first meet Starbuck, she’s drinking space-booze and trading insults with the boys. When we meet Walker, she’s smoking a butt and telling another officer that she’d “rather be molested by clowns” than sleep with him. Starbuck asserts herself, punching Tigh in the mouth and proving that a man can’t keep her down. In place of fuzzy dice, Walker hangs her ex-husband’s nutsack from her rearview mirror. Oh, and they both have short blond hair, personality-defying good looks, and a sick jacket.

But don’t think I’m complaining. Because the fact is that sometimes using tried-and-true archetypes works. Walker is the tough-as-nails woman that Johnny Jackson is going to have to deal with. And, in a not uncommon twist, Walker is working for the slimeball that hired Jackson back in the first place. So we have to spend some time trying to figure out who exactly this femme fatale is going to play — her new partner, her corrupt boss, both of them? Again, standard crime story fare, but it’s working!

Once again, Templesmith’s art is the absolute fucking balls. His line art is top-notch, but it’s his work with tones and colors that elevate Choker to the plateau of visual ecstasy. As I read the comic, I find myself feeling as though I’m lost in some sort of bleak neon nightmare. There is a general gloominess afoot, and the occasional splashes of light are only used to sparingly highlight an impending horror. Take, as an example, the first splash, in which a pack of hillbilly cannibals reveal themselves from the shadows — only their ravenous, drooling faces receive full color.

In terms of visual structure, it’s worth noting that dark gray ink clouds often stretch themselves across the page. Effectively, this helps to blur the otherwise rigid divisions between panels. So while the paneled sequence remains clear to the reader, a subtle sense of narrative obfuscation is presented. Which is useful, considering that Choker is a crime-mystery, slowly revealing itself over the course of six issues.

I’m not exactly sure where Choker is leading. But I’m going to follow.


Warren Ellis — I want you to read this shit and look at the sexy art. And then I want you to take your beautiful, fish’n’chips snatching fingers and put them to a keyboard. And then, I want you to finish Fell.