Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Sean Murphy
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Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
I've always had a theory that Grant Morrison doesn't really care about the art in comic books. Unlike say (plucking an example from the top of my head) Alan Moore whose books (whether you like them or not) are nearly always lavishly designed and constructed almost to be enjoyed even without reading the words in those little text ballons - Morrison seems more like he so enjoys the rush and joy and pulsating energy of the stuff he writes that it almost doesn't matter what the artist does when they bring them to life. And as much as I can appreciate Doom Patrol, Animal Man and - yeah I'm gonna say it: The Invisibles: a lot of the artwork in most of those books looks pretty - tossed off. I mean: I'd be happy to hang a print from Watchmen on my wall - and not because it's Watchmen or anything: but because it'd look nice - what with that 9 box grid and everything locking everything into place and stuff. But: most Morrison stuff: well. Not so much.
Which is what makes it super-fantastic when he does decide to team up with an artist that can actually keep up with his prodigious imaginations: Chris Weston in The Filth and The Invisibles, J. H. Williams in Seven Soldiers and Batman, and - hell - Frank Quitely in Everything.
Which brings us to the mighty Joe The Barbarian and the beautiful Sean Murphy.
I first heard of Sean Murphy when Jan - one of the Islington Comic Forum regulars - first started yelling at me (in a nice way): "How have you not heard of Sean Murphy man? He's bloody amazing! How have you not heard of him? He's like the best artist since forever! He does all these amazing intricate drawing and they all look so beautiful and lovely man and he's just the greatest! How have you not heard of him already?!" He then googled images of his art and shoved them in front of my face: and - well - yeah. I had to admit: even tho I looking at it on a teeny tiny screen - guy's art did look pretty rad. "He's done a Hellblazer already and at the moment he's doing this thing with Grant Morrison: it's only 2 issues in - but it's really really amazing."
I'll wait for the library to get a copy I said.
And so here we are:
Grant Morrison has described it as "It's like Home Alone meets Lord of the Rings." Which is pretty accurate - altho I'd throw in The NeverEnding Story in too - just to be sure.
So I hope that all the above makes very clear that I'd been waiting to read this book for a bit of a long while. I'm not the most steadfast Grant Morrison fan: I'm the guy that balks when he gets too much into his wild and lofty excesses: but I do love it when he's restricted to things that take up the space of just one book (see above). Also I think the fact that I starting reading this just after giving up on Jonathan Ross' comic Turf which is filled to the brim with words and words and more words made the clean, sparse opening of Joe The Barbarian feel like jumping into a clear lake: so very very refreshing.
My only issue was the one that I get with all good comic books which is trying to decide between the desire to wanting to read things it all very slow and pore over each and every panel - taking in all the small touches and details (which for this kind of thing is probably a pretty good idea) or doing the opposite - just running through it as fast as I possibility can in order to get to the end and find out what happens and how and why and when.
Unlike past Morrison stories which have always tended to go places more cerebral than soppy: Joe isn't afraid to hit a few fairly basic emotional beats and pluck some conventional tunes out on the old heart-strings: but to those who would grumble that it's a little low-brow I'd argue that sometimes it's cool to replay a story that you may have heard before ("Traditional Rules Apply!") retold with a new lick of paint and brand new engine. With Sean Murphy not being afraid to take his time and set things out or blow a page or two on some of the most epic vistas I've ever seen (I believe that at one point I may have even whistled to myself: "wow - that castle looks cool.")
There were some bits towards the end (even reading it the second time) that it did seem that some things got into a bit of a muddle (but maybe that's the point somehow?): but all-in-all I'd say that it gave me one of the most pleasurable reading experiences I'd had in a while: and even if it's not an out-and-out masterpiece - it is the perfect entertainment for a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Links: Comic Book Resources Grant Morrison Interview, The Comics Journal Review #1 / The Comics Journal Review #1-6, Comic Book Resources Review #1 / #2 / #5 / #6 / #7, Pink Kryptonite Review of #8, Comics Alliance Article: Joe the Barbarian: Reality vs Fiction in Grant Morrison's Comics / Comics Alliance Article: 2 Davids, 1 Book: Grant Morrison & Sean Murphy's Joe the Barbarian, Tearoom of Despair Article: Joe the Barbarian – Growing Up Is For Wimps, Mindless Ones Article: Joe The Barbarian – Fun Buy Apollo Geist, Comics Should Be Good Review #1, A Lay of the Land Review, Multiversity Casting Couch, IGN Interview with Grant Morrison.
Further reading: I Kill Giants, All Star Superman, We3, Promethea, Solanin, The Hobbit, Vimanarama, Smax, The Unwritten, The Filth, Hellblazer: City of Demons, Saga, Mazeworld.
Profiles: Grant Morrison.
All comments welcome.