…and that’s not this frankly silly name “trade paperback” that’s suddenly being bandied about as an alternative for them. “Graphic novel” at least describes what the object it’s attached to is - a coherent narrative with the environment it depicts being communicated through a drawn visual medium. this bizarre and thoroughly nonscensical “trade paperback”, though, conjures images more of Joiners’ and Carpenters’ Gazette than Sandman!
Anyway, with that bile ventilated, back onto the topic I raised in the thread title.
We all read and enjoy comics, but the way in which we appreciate them differs considerably. Most notably, the format of American and British comics differs considerably, with the former tending to concentrate on lengthy, issue-spanning strips that allow for development on plot whereas the latter consists of brief, episodic bursts that allow the emphasis to be placed on characterisation (or so the theory goes - a lot of them do tend to end up just as ‘stories’ chopped up into intervals). However, in the graphic novel both disciplines of comic writing converge into a single entity, and they can be seen as indicative of the mature reader who is willing to appreciate both the quantity of a more voluminous tome (consdering taht comics do tend to be emaciated by anyone’s standards) and, if it’s an especially superior comic, the depth of its protagonists.
A short while ago I was having a rummage through my magazine cupboard, an arduous and inhospitable realm of ancient, dust-smothered relics and full to overflowing with old editions of Sonic the Comic, Sega Magazine, Sega Saturn Magazine and a spoil-heap’s worth of detritus that has been shaken off my long and continuing affiliation with Games Workshop. As I did, I discovered nothing less than a little sliver of my own personal history, yellowed with age, sandwiched between old copies of publications dedicated to themes as various as Transformers, Beano-imitators and Captain Bucky O’Hare. It is, I believe, the damaged but legible constituency of the very first graphic novel that ever came into my possession - the collected compendium of the first Armoured Gideon adventure.
Armoured Gideon was a comic series that ran intermittently between 1988 and 1995 in 2000 A.D. - for Americans who don’t know of it, 2000 A.D. is one of the most famous (and long-lasting, currently touting almost 1,500 issues or “progs”) British comic books, a weekly fest of science fiction that is often considered the “springboard” which promotes British talent into the American market and is most well-known for being the home of Judge Dredd. You can also easily tell that I obtained it quite early on in my life - as the comic was published in black and white, I first thought that it was a colouring book and the first few pages are enunciated with felt-tip pen as a result! :anjou_embarassed: It’s also a comic that would have been highly inappropriate for me at such a tender age as six or seven, given that it deals with rather brutal topics such as satanic cults and not an inconsiderable amount of gore and violence… I can only presume that my mother never bothered to open the covers and assumed “robots equals Transformers equals son out of my hair for a few hours”.
Armoured Gideon centres around the distinctly paranormal trials and tribulations of Frank Weitz, a Briton and a retired war photogragher who now works as a journalist for the fictional newspaper, Daily Clarion. He suddenly has a taste of his former life when he manages to get his camera in the midst of a kidnapping of a prominent ambassador by the terrorists of the Crimson Jihad - it looks like as if the affair’s going to be a textbook emulation of the Iranian Embassy siege…
…until a twenty-foot robot screaming “ANNIHILATE!” smashes its way through the wall, that is.
Frank Weitz’s history may have accustomed himself to danger, but with this rather unique intervention he’s suddenly and unexpectedly drawn into a wholly different league entirely. Events threaten to make him collateral damage in a war that doesn’t just span regions or countries but dimensions, and the only thing that Frank can hold onto is his camera and his pictures - and the hope that they’ll give him the biggest scoop in the history of the printing press. More pressing, though, is a matter of survival as this strange metal interloper from the ether keeps coming back for Frank, and wil shred, crush, pulp, savage (and, indeed, annihilate!) anything that tries to prevent it from catching him…
Looking back on it now as I peruse the pages with a nostalgic air, Armoured Gideon is something of a mixed bag. The scenario itself is strong - the eponymous robot itself is an immensely impressive creation, its hulking broad-shouldered form is bristling with power, the harsh vertices of its visage conveying a superbly mechanical manifestation of menace - relentless, inexorable, and impossible to fatigue - and, like all good robots, he’s nigh-invulnerable and bristles with more accessories than a Swiss Army Knife (there’s even a monitor on his chest which displays whatever weapon he’s deploying!). “ANNIHILATE!” is also magnificently idiosyncratic, as vividly idiosyncratic as as “Exterminate! Exterminate!” of the Daleks. Frank Weitz is also a marvellously and believeably human character, namely in that although he’s a “cometh the hour, cometh the man” hero, he doesn’t do something as trite as “embracing his destiny” and unashamedly retains his mercenary journalistic character (cooing with joy as he imagines how many exclusive contracts he’s going to win with his images of a wrecked town, for instance). The art is also worthy of respect, conveying a great amount of detail in every panel, and the dialogue is also decent, touching briefly on some metaphysical meditations and including some absolutely gloriously black-humoured dialogue in places: “Mum used to say that I was clairvoyant, but Dad said that I was Satan’s Changeling, 'cos my dreams were like what the ancient carvings said in the Sacristy. That’s when Dad started to get a bit weird.”
There are a fair few negative remarks which tarnish its steel sheen, though. The art can seem rather oddly proportioned in places, with eyes turning from narrow slits to being more bulbuous than a frog’s in the space of single panels. There are also a few plot points that are hard to swallow - Naiomi Benson, Weitz’s absolute harridan of an editor, still insists on proclaiming Frank’s pictures “obvious fakes” even when an entire English village has been stomped into the dirt and the evidence of what did it scattered around a thousand square yards; two characters sitting down for a few pages of exposition over a cup of coffee whilst that same village is thoroughly pulverised just half a mile away; and the shops are apparently still open, even when that village is a bombsite! Despite my praise earlier, it has to be said that Weitz is rather unrealistic in how he seems to cooly accept the fantasy environment he’s been flung into as ‘Oh, how interesting’ as well.
Despite those awkward moments, though, there’s a soundly chilling epilogue to the entire adventure, and the volume itself was rounded off with a couple of “Tharg’s Future Shocks” - five-page shorts from the pages of 2000 A.D. that are the prodcuts of a very disturbed and demented imagination, including a man escaping his own severance from the mortal coil by buying off Death through selling poisonous junk food that kills thousands, and an actor haunted by the ghost of Rod Serling (the presenter from The Twilight Zone). Altogether, it’s an eminently competent package and there are many far worse introductions to the world of comics!
Here are a few images of Armoured Gideon for the curious:
And there, my own rambling tale of my first steps into graphic novels, now advanced into reading through the shelves at Borders, comes to a close. What about your own experiences, though? Do you have anything particularly unique about the original components of your collections?
Either way, see you on the Edge…