Thursday , November 23 2017

Looking back: McBlack

McBlack
Format: Graphic Novel (84 pages)
Writer/penciller: Jason Franks
Inker/finisher: Dave Gutierrez
Cover artist: Ron Salas

The McBlack graphic novel was first published in 2010, but the writing and artwork was mostly completed across 2006. The story is split in to three chapters that were clearly marked for a comic book series, but that never happened and the book was released in print as a single volume instead (though the three separate issues can be purchased digitally). McBlack creator Jason Franks tells me it’s been a perennial seller for him and “looks like it’s time to go back for a third print run, so I guess people are still interested in it.”

Whiteface McBlack is an ex-P.I. who operates in a noirish, almost lawless near future filled with mutant cyborg biker hippies, Irish paramilitary cannibals, redneck triads and mixed soccer league teams. He has left the detecting part of the biz behind to specialise in just the McShooting and the McKilling. His world seems like something out of ‘The Warriors’ or ‘Escape from New York’. It has a ’70s retro sci-fi vibe which serves it well.

The whole thing kicks off in a very traditional way. A tip of the fedora to the dime novel past: McBlack’s tough, wise-cracking voice-over narrative guides the reader as his low-rent office is visited by the “Killer Dame”, a dame that’s usually hiding a dark secret. This dame is barely dressed and covered in tatts. The drill is the same, though. She wants McBlack to find her missing husband. He reluctantly takes the job on… and the body count begins.

As the corpses pile up and the plot thickens, it’s made very graphicly clear that McBlack isn’t your usual mercenary-for-hire. Besides having a skull-like visage showcasing a sharp set of pearly whites, he also has some anatomical anomalies that allow him to survive a few brutal encounters along the way. The squirrely plot let’s the reader learn a bit more about McBlack’s strange and violent world. We meet his dog, Whiteface McDog, his arms dealer, Lila, and a nemesis in the form of an unfinished job that McBlack needs to see some closure to.

By the time the cast is complete, including illegal arms dealers, crooked cops, and a former pro-wrestler turned monster truck dealer, the whole thing comes to a quick and typically brutal and bloody end.

The one element that holds this book back the most is the blunt artwork perhaps best described as ‘unrefined’. In many ways it suits the story and does its job on a very perfunctory level. But the harder elements to illustrate – cars, city scapes and the like – fall short of accomplished. The page layouts and generally smart pacing carry the reader past most of these deficiencies. Franks admits that he had a tough time translating his script to pencilled pages and he relied on inker/finisher Dave Gutierrez to help make the book look a bit more professional. Overall, Franks seems to be having so much fun that he drags the reader along for the ride, despite a little bit of wonky anatomy or a suss looking police car here and there.

The story holds together well and delivers a lot of over-the-top fun. This is very pulpy fiction and it’s low brow nature is it’s saving grace. Franks seemed very aware of what he was aiming for and the result was a blood soaked bullseye… or headshot as the case may be.

The whole package lurks behind a wonderful, eye-catching front cover illustration by Ron Salas.

If you like your violence extreme and your humour black you’ll probably get a blast out of… McBlack. You’d probably also enjoy the follow-ups: McBlack One Shot, McBlack Two Shot and Lady McBlack.

You can read more about the origins of McBlack from writer Jason Franks here.

Art credits: Top, cover art by Ron Salas. Bottom, interior page by Jason Franks and Dave Gutierrez.

About GC

GC

Gary Chaloner is the creator of Flash Damingo and The Jackaroo, The Undertaker Morton Stone & Red Kelso. He’s also worked on Will Eisner’s John Law, Robert E. Howard’s Breckinridge Elkins, Astro City, Doc Wilde and Unmasked. He’s the co-convenor of The Ledger Awards and the host/publisher of the AustralianComicsJournal.com.

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