SPX 2014: Brandon Graham and Multiple Warheads

Welcome to another entry in the 2014 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, Panel Patter will be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at one of the best conventions, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of Panel Patter's spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity written and drawn by Brandon Graham; Image Comics, 2014, 208 pages; reviewed by Maia Kobabe.

Multiple Warheads opens in black and white. Small flecks of snow drift down onto a monolithic stone statue of Chairman Mao, scarred and impaled by rockets. This is Dead City, the Wasteland (‘smells like radiation dust and broken dreams’) still full of active landmines and the wreckage of destroyed spaceships. Nonchalantly, a girl with skunk-like black and white hair lights a cigarette. Thus we meet Sexica, an organ smuggler (‘smells like caffeine cigarettes and green apples’) back from a long run and headed home to the city and her boyfriend Nikolai, a part-werewolf mechanic (‘smells like a wolf and hears like one too’). Graham's character designs are smart and visually pleasing. In contrast to the general aesthetic of dystopian sci-fi, Graham's world is made of gentle curves. His cities seem to grown organically out of the streets in rounded segments, and his cars are downright cuddly. But this world holds genuine danger. Sexica has hardly finished cashing in her haul when her and Nik’s apartment is crushed by falling space debris, a common hazard. With little more than a homemade car, the clothes on their backs and Sex’s last paycheck, they decide to ditch the living core of Dead City and head out through the Wasteland to Impossible, a city rumored to be untouched by war. The next chapter opens in full color, the start of the road trip as well as the start of the main plot of the book.

Multiple Warheads follows up King City as Brandon Graham’s second sprawling creator-owned science
fiction series. (He is also writing a third series, Prophet, for Image.) Like King City, this book is a feast of visual wit. The pages are crowded with street graffiti, urban detritus, bizarre little aliens and dozens of puns. Graham’s style has grown, both in clarity and intricacy. His paneling and page layouts are fantastic, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Every page in the book is full bleed, and he packs them all the way to the edge. The abundance of details is kept in check by swaths of open space; valleys of untouched snow, miles of empty highway and clear monochrome skies serve to balance out the extravagance of minutia.

Before Sexica and Nik were the main characters of this epic road-trip tale, they starred in a ten page black and white porn comic. This comic is included at the back of the volume and gives the book its M+ (Mature) rating. Brandon Graham's first job in the professional comics world was as a porn comics author/illustrator in New York, and it shows in his work. I mean that in the most complimentary way. The sex scenes are not only funny and sexy, they are also integral to the story.

Multiple Warheads begins a little more slowly than King City. But this volume only spins out the beginning of what will be a multi-book series. What kept the story moving was the introduction of a whole cast of excellent characters: Sexica's badass fellow organ smuggler, a fearless woman named Blue Nura; their misunderstood tentacle-faced alien boss, Pumpkin; a polite disembodied dragon head named Sing-Song; and a pair of adorable poly-amorous cross-species boyfriends, to name a few. Comics are a fast-paced media from the reader’s perspective, and some people dislike anything that slows down the turning of pages. To those of you who fall into this category, I'd say skip the puns on your first read through and catch them on the second pass. Alternately, if you are already a Brandon Graham fan, read the puns both on the first read through and the second pass, as I did. You will inevitably find things you missed.

This review was previously published in CCA's literary journal Eleven Eleven, issue 17. Used with permission of the author.