The 13th Son: Worse Thing Waiting

January 14, 2009

13th-son-1I have always loved Kelley Jones’s artwork. He has the most curious eye for ways to distort animal anatomy and motion and the effects of light. His characters tend to hover in appearance somewhere between ha-ha absurdity and the grotesque with personality traits to match. Comics with Jones’s contribution — from Sandman to Deadman, from Batman Vampire and Dark Joker the Wild to Batman: Gotham after Midnight — are freaks-filled and commonsensically weird. This is why, for me, Jones offers the simplest illustration against claims that comics are but inferior narratives, a simplification of textual stories through baby doodles.

Pick up The 13th Son, and you will know what Jones’s followers have understood all the while: that pictures form a delight inaccessible to words and their mere movement. The most enjoyable part of Jones’s work is the interaction between his drawings and the textually proposed scenes: their mapping always makes perfect sense at a purely sublime level. Jones the artist stands singularly in the way of the myth of comic writers as primary geniuses: whenever he is involved, the criteria for a well-constructed narrative shift elsewhere, in greater favour of some visual poetry. So what if the story in The 13th Son assumes from the get-go your willingness to believe anything, even the existence of nocturnal monsters who eat humans in a pack? So what if it then daringly moves to a crazier plane, suggesting that these terrifying wild creatures have a bogeyman they truly fear, an undying human who slaughters them just because he can? And what if we learn later that this slayer is happily married to a voluptuous witch?…

You don’t need me to tell you how, in words, all these sound so dumb. The plot reeks like the recipe you know will make you the most laughed-at life-form for a long time and so you keep hidden in a place so secret hopefully you won’t remember where. But, in Jones’s hands, such utter rubbish becomes credible and even pure gold. In no time at all, you will be held hostage by a rapid primeval assault of stranger and stranger turns and a story that makes piss-pot material of everything Freudian. This book has to be experienced: there is just no exact description.

Gweek’s fun-o-meter registers an 8.

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