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31 August 2014

Kabuki (1994)

When it comes to writing comics, I'd say that I know just about enough to be dangerous. This might sound odd given that I have now written two "graphic novels" with a third in the pipes, but believe me when I say that these ventures have been all heart and no training!

In the middle of creating "Bad Moon" I did consider doing some research for pointers, but I gave that idea up almost as soon as I'd begun; I realised that I didn't want to produce a comic like anyone else's. It seemed that the best way of doing this might be to ignore what that had gone before. I even went as far as to avoid reading comics; I didn't want to subconsciously infect my novel with someone else's ideas. I know it sounds a bit extreme, but this was simply how it had to be. It was only after finishing "The Black Pirate" that I finally felt safe picking up comics again. I bought loads and have been working my way through them ever since. There's been a real mixed bag of subject, styles and quality. All have been insightful in some way. Before the memories fade too much, I'm going to share some of my thoughts on them with you on this blog.

My first review is a wildcard purchase. I happened upon it quite by chance. It is the 1994 graphic novel "Kabuki: Circle of Blood" by David Mack.

One fairly obvious criticism of comics comes from the fact that they lend themselves to superficial storytelling. If the artwork doesn't rise to the challenge of telling the story then the limited space for words soon pays it's toll. The end result can be flat and uninspiring. As a reader I don't want a novel with added pictures. Certainly, I want the pictures to reinforce the words, but I also want it to bring new information that the words themselves may not even hint at. I'm pleased to announce that Mack's Kabuki delivers this in spades. I don't pretend to be clever enough to have spotted all of the hidden messages he has woven into the artwork, but what I have seen definitely elevates this comic above many others I have read.

I am firmly of the belief that great stories simply are. By that I mean that no matter how much, or how little you reveal of them, they will by their very nature strike a chord with their audience. I also believe that great stories owe their success as much to the reader as they do to the author. It frustrates the hell out of me when every last detail is outlined and I am told what to think and how to feel. Life just isn't like that. Give the reader a moment to ponder and they will imagine situations more compelling than many authors can dream up. That my friend is the mark of great story-telling!

Rant over.

Mack explains a lot in his story. I started with misgivings, but soon realised that actually, given the epic, complex nature of the tale, a lot needs to be explained if the story is to make any sense at all. Mack's narrative is compelling and clear, flowing like water between the rocks in a stream, tickling the story along. I loved it.

As a side note: It is obvious to me that Mack had the story all figured out up front. This has allowed him to add layers that I wasn't expecting but appreciate immensely. He's also manages to achieve a degree of symmetry and balance that makes this particular book stand out. In fact, if I was to sum up the whole experience of reading "Circle of Blood" in one word, it would most likely be "balance".

What's it all about then?

"Circle of Blood" weaves an epic tale of Japanese life that touches on politics and the underworld stitched together with generous strands of Japanese history. At the heart of the tale is Kabuki, an outsider trained to avenge the demons of her past. Lead by a secret group known as the "Noh" she is employed as a weapon meting out their wishes with clinical bloody precision.

It's set in Japan, but not any Japan you might have read about before. I had in my mind a picture of Ridley Scott's version of Bladerunner, of a futuristic rain-drenched world obsessed as much with the past as with the future, where even the apparently mundane is awkward and otherworldly.

As the chapters unfold, we learn of Kabuki and the world she finds herself in. She's a high-heeled, high-kicking super-killer. Mack portrays her almost as if she is a super hero... invincible. Personally, I think he misses a trick here. I like my heroes to be human. There were moments where doubts were fleetingly introduced, but actually I never once believed that she wouldn't do all the things that she set out to do. I would have loved to have been given more of a reign to imagine disaster, but Mack's focus appears to have been on other things.

The artwork is pretty special, though I'll reveal that I'm not a fan of the seemingly endless pictures of scantily-clad women in contrived "artistic" poses. It's not that they shock me, or for any other prudish reasons. I just find it hard to reconcile them with the story being told. As a visual feast, it's great, but I found it removed that thin veneer of truth that might have let me believe that all this really could have happened. And I really wanted to believe that all this really could have happened! I'm being picky. It's all in the name of Art... Let's move on...

On the whole what you get is some fantastic black and white ink drawings. The artwork is wonderfully restrained with a tendency at times to linger on an idea to make a point. Mack slips in and out of realistic drawing as and when the story demands. I loved the symbolism. Interestingly for me is the use of the crescent... the broken circle. It appears frequently in different guises and it is obvious that Mack has been hooked on the myriad of possible meanings which he explores throughout the story. Most amusing for me was its use as Kabuki's weapon... her deadly sickles. Death by crescent! Ha ha! How apt!

Right, let's round this off!

See what I did there? ;-)

I think you can tell that I really enjoyed this novel. And reading the back page, it looks like there are many more books in the series! Definitely one to look out for in the future. I'd love to learn more about the character called "Scarab". She only gets a passing mention in the "Circle of Blood". Perhaps she gets more airtime in later novels? I'll just have to wait and see! Hold on... Volume 6 is called "Scarab"... It's a sign!

On the dusty Triple-B I'm going to complete the circle twice with a bloody 8.


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