King City #1–12 by Brandon Graham
To read King City is to enter into one man’s singular vision captured in 424 pages of paper with pencil and ink. Twelve issues of a mostly plotless story (as Graham admits in the outro) in an otherly world of delightful inventiveness and wonderful imagination. The protagonist of the book is Joe, who has a car called Earthing JJ Catingsworth the Third, but it is no ordinary cat – this is a special cat that can do just about anything: he can make copies of physical items (‘a copy cat’), be used as a periscope and a hoverboard, act as a video camera, become a fighting machine, among other things, once he’s had an injection. (The reasons for this are not explained, but it doesn’t matter.) Joe is a Cat Master – he has returned from The Farm, where he did his training with the other Cat Masters. Back in King City, he hooks up with old friend Pete (who seems to constantly wear a balaclava) before he gets involved in … things. The things are not strictly important – it is the details that interest Graham.
The city is one of the details that interests Graham – there are unnecessary panels of telegraph wires, huge vistas of the city from a distance that don’t set the scene of the story, a shot looking up at skyscrapers, a panel showing a shot of downtown in the middle of a conversation between Joe and Pete; there are also little background bits that have no relationship with the rest of the panel, such as adverts on the walls, a man asking, ‘Hey, want anyone killed?’, the contents of Pete’s desk, a cross-page panorama showing different people’s homes, a sign saying ‘No dumping bodies after 10pm (seriously)’, a panel showing what happened to people in their life (‘Discovered a new color’, ‘Grew eight new organs’). There’s a page that’s a crossword. For no reason. It’s understandable because he’s created a wonderful place to inhabit and he’s obviously enjoying showing us it in all its vivid splendour. There’s no need for a story because the world-building is so much fun.
There is also a delightfully silly sense of humour (‘cervix entrance’, ‘spice-thyme continuum’), which helps. There is a join-the-dots picture that is a part of a panel. There’s a double-page spread that is a board game where you help the characters to find their destination in the city. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before – the Cat Master idea is a wonderful concept but it’s only the tip of the iceberg in a book full of ideas and silly, unnecessary notions; they create a world of oddness and quirkiness and triviality that add layers that enrich the background and enhance the storytelling experience, allowing it to unfold and breathe. This is helped by Graham’s art, which is whimsical and cartoony but clean and detailed and that revels in the details; all the characters are individuals, even the people who aren’t part of the story, and there is never any moment when the story is unclear or confused. This is a truly unique book that you lose yourself in, and it’s definitely worth the time to investigate.