Daily Constitutional Editor Adam writes…
Every year at this busy time I dig into the archives of The Daily Constitutional and repost a few favourites - it allows me to enjoy the school holidays with my daughter and still lead my London Walks tours.
This year I'm reposting my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London - a series of posts tracing the inky footsteps left behind in our capital by everyone from William Hogarth to Scooby Doo. It's been one of the most popular series of all on The Daily Constitutional and I'm looking forward to updating it after the holidays with posts on Captain America, the X-Men, George Cruikshank and Mary Darly. In the meantime, here's the story so far…
Earlier in the series I added Orbital Comics, the comic book store in Great Newport Street to my Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London.
Today, Orbital comics are joining our tour with a great recommendation for a London-set comic book – The Wicked + The Divine by Keiron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.
In terms of location I am delighted to say that we're heading London transpontine – I am that most derided of Londoners: a South Londoner trapped in a North Londoner's body. One day they'll make documentaries, maybe even a comic book, about my kind.
The Wicked + The Divine kicks off in Brockley, SE4, an area of London that was part of Kent until the 1880s…
The Brockley Jack Theatre can be found there, housed in a Victorian Pub. Spike Milligan lived in Brockley when he first arrived in this country from India. The entertainers Marie Lloyd and Lily Langtry both lived in the area. And it is currently home to one of London's most informative blogs Brockley Central – brockleycentral.blogspot.co.uk – the liveliness of the blog being very much a reflection of the vibrancy of the area.
This vibrancy aside, Brockley remains a contrastingly prosaic launch pad for such a fantastical tale.
But it is a wild tale indeed that starts in the suburban South London street depicted above.
The Wicked + The Divine is a fantasy in which the gods return to earth every 90 years. In the 21st Century their special abilities see them treated as both super heroes and as celebrities. What ensues is a great mix of chaos and smart commentary on 21st century fame and power.
There seems to be something in the ether at the moment with comic books and gods. It's a natural fit, of course: didn't Prometheus steal fire from the Gods to help mankind at great personal risk to himself? What's that if not classic superhero behaviour?
And on the same comic book racks of 2015 where we pick up The Wicked + The Divine, we can also find God Is Dead (there's ol' Nietzsche again, 'e popped up earlier in Über, also by Kieron Gillen, which featured in this tour, in Panel No.9). God is Dead (Avatar Press) is a spectacularly bloody look at what might happen if the gods of all creeds and cultures and eras all came back at once to claim the earth for their own. Much less bloody is The Life After, in which Ernest Hemmingway leads us on a tour of an "alternative heaven", an after life for suicides.
I'm tempted to speculate that the modern comic book writer seems compelled to help the 21st Century reader fill the belief-shaped space vacated by organised religion
But then if I'm not careful I'll end up in Pseud's Corner in Private Eye again – see my earlier post (Panel No.3).
It's certainly the case that god is on our minds – as I keep pointing out in reference to the timing of this series, we live in a world where people who draw pictures get killed in the name of god.
The crime writer Ian Rankin once observed that prize-winning literary fiction often tends to be set in the past, while crime writers address the issues of contemporary society. The same could be said of the modern comic book (no coincidence that Rankin himself has turned to authoring illustrated fiction in his post-Inspector Rebus years). If historians 100 years hence want to know how we lived – and what we feared – at the start of the 21st Century they would do well to look at our comic books.
Jamie McKelvie's artwork (the colourist is Matthew Wilson) is seductive. It always makes me think of the music of Erik Satie: like Satie's piano pieces, McKelvie's lines at first appear calm, almost obedient. Yet within that calmness lurks the ability for theatrical shock and drama. The clean lines lure the reader into a false sense of security and when the narrative takes its regular hyper-real turns, the drama is thus heightened as the hitherto realistic drawings burst into life.
The crisp naturalism of the drawings is the perfect companion to the wild narrative flights of Gillen, a writer (as we have already scene with Über) of great imaginative gifts. For older readers such as I, Gillen is impressive in that he is a writer totally at home in his milieu, comfortable in his own writerly skin. Not at any point does he have to big-up the medium, to explain that comic books can carry a meaningful tale. Both writer and artist also work for the mighty Marvel comics. And Marvel is lucky to have them.
Brockley is the starting point for the narrative but we range all over London, from Homerton to The Strand. The old tube station on The Strand is one of my favourite pages in The Wicked + The Divine so far…
I love the lettering (by Clayton Cowles) descending the page as the characters break in to the disused tube station.
The Wicked + The Divine is an ongoing series and the first five issues are collected in The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act, on sale now…
Visit The Wicked + The Divine website at www.wicdiv.com
I'll bring you more recommendations from Orbital Comics soon, as well as D.C Thomson in Fleet Street, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as our Cartoon & Comic Book Tour of London continues…
NOTE AUGUST 2017: We're now at issue 31 on Wicked + Divine and there are four collected editions available. Visit the publisher's website to catch-up: imagecomics.com/comics/series/the-wicked-the-divine
A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.