Story and Inks: Darren Close
Pencils: Paul Abstruse
Ozone Studios, 2011
Australian comics have always had the great advantage of not having a dominant comic book genre dictate the creative choices of artists and writers doing their thing here. For example, in the US, the superhero genre still stands supreme (as evidenced by the recent Avengers blockbuster movie), while here, it is a mere influence, not a determining factor in what creators do and how they do it. We have mini comics, webcomics, single gag comics and full blown graphic novels about war, crime, funny animals… you name it. Oh, and there’s always The Phantom.
It’s difficult down here to do an “American-style” comic, released regularly and distributed widely. But this is what Darren Close has always attempted to do. He’s a product of his influences and his influences are clearly the comics being released by the big American publishers, primarily Image Comics, who in particular, have moved over the last decade from superhero titles like Spawn, Youngblood and Savage Dragon to also publishing a wide variety of genres and styles like The Walking Dead, Hack/Slash, Super Dinosaur and Fatale.
Darren Close’s Killeroo is the closest thing to an Image Comic that we have down here. I don’t mean this in a bad way. It just seeps through Close’s design sense (which is very strong and professional) and his storytelling approach and style.
Close has been steadily working on Killeroo projects for the past decade or so. It’s a strong and simple character that allows for a wide variety of stories in a wide variety of styles. But the premise is still rock solid: a big fuck off man-kangaroo that can walk and talk, getting into adventures and situations involving fist fights, motor bikes, bloodshed and explosions.
Close writes the stories, and has a history of working with other artists to bring his violent creation to life on the page. Close has also contributed pencil artwork or inking as and where he can over the years. He has stated many times that he simply wants to get better as an artist and as a writer.
Killeroo: Gangwar is the latest comic book by Close, this time aided by story penciller and cover artist Paul Abstruse. Close is inker and grey tone artist, though these contributions are oddly credited on the inside front cover as ‘production’.
You can pretty much tell by the title what the story is about. Killeroo, or Rufus, as he’s called by his friends, is the leader of an outback biker gang back in the 1980s. The story tells of a deadly face-off with a rival gang at a roadhouse — a story that echoes an infamous real-life shootout by two rival biker gangs at Milperra, New South Wales in 1984.
The story is written in a tone that recalls George Miller’s Mad Max movies. A narrative voice paints Rufus as an urban legend and the events that take place as a you-had-to-be-there ‘tall story’. The bloody aftermath being the only evidence that the titular anti-hero might have participated in the events at all. Oh yes, the art shows you what happened, in gory, uber-detail, and the narrative cleverly compliments the art by not repeating what’s being shown, instead offering new information, important details on characters and motivations that otherwise would leave the story feeling like a one dimensional bloodfest.
The story can be read as a ‘jump on point’ for new readers, as it gives just enough information about the main character, while hinting at further adventures that will hopefully flesh out the character’s milieu.
The artwork is ferocious. Abstruse’s style is well-suited to the subject matter. He doesn’t hold back on detail, imbuing each panel with enough leather, chains, blades and tattoo art to melt the eyeballs. Close himself took on the task of inking the pencilled art. (Close is no stranger to inking Abstruse. They worked together on a previous project, The Witch King, for Phosphorescent Comics back in 2002-05.)
There are a few problems with panel layout and anatomy that breaks the flow of the story. Who’s doing what to whom?, is a question raised in a few places, but the overall forward motion of the narrative makes this a minor point as the reader is cleverly kept in the middle of all the chaos.
The book has a sketchbook feature at the back that showcases Abstruse’s development sketches and other Killeroo art. I particularly appreciated the inclusion of the uncoloured cover art, which I much preferred in black and white over the finished colour cover. The cover worked in attracting attention, but it suffered by a muddy green and a general ‘too dark’ feel that did nothing to enhance the detail in the linework.
A few other areas of production that drew my attention: The grey tones of the story were bordering on too dark as well. Any darker and some of the panels and their artistic detail would have been lost. Granted, the story was set at night in a heavy downpour of rain, with an approaching thunderstorm etc. Still, perhaps this heaviness of ‘ink’ can be blamed on the digital printing process.
Also, I found that the card cover stock and weight of the glossy paper within made for an uncomfortable read. At 14 actual story pages, with a total page count of 20 interior pages, I can see why the decision was made to “bulk up” the book, but the book feels stiff and the pages slightly uninviting to flip through.
Overall, Killeroo: Gangwar is a solid, positive and important addition to the adventures of Rufus. Close has started something with this book by giving his character a new depth and direction that perhaps was missing in earlier tales. His growth as an artist and writer will no doubt go hand-in-hand with the further adventures of his rampaging roo. He’s to be applauded for his tenacity and faith in a character that deserves a long and successful publishing life.
Killeroo: Gangwar can be ordered direct from Darren Close.