Monday, November 5, 2018

Tyler Cross: Black Rock

I first saw this graphic novel a few years ago while I was in the Netherlands for an academic conference. I loved the format and the artwork, but it was in Dutch, so I did not buy it. I did snap a pic of the cover with my cell phone, so I could look for it in English, and lo and behold all these years later, it's finally here. And published by one of my favorite book imprints, no less! I have read a bunch of prose novels from Hard Case Crime, and in recent years they have moved into publishing graphic novels, too, which is exciting to me. Is that more than you wanted to know from me? I hope not, and now onto the book...
Tyler Cross: Black Rock seems almost tailored made for me. It is a lot like Richard Stark's classic Parker series, about a hardened criminal who largely keeps to himself and works many a job with similarly minded crooks. The set-up here is that Cross agrees to do a robbery/hit job, and it goes south. He ends up stranded on foot in the Texas desert with 20 dollars in his pocket, a gun in his belt, and a bag full of 17 kilos of uncut brown heroin. Eventually, he finds himself in Black Rock, a town owned and ruled by the corrupt Pragg family. Seeing a suspicious stranger and the chance to make a potential buck, they make life very difficult for him.
I am not going to spoil things much with giving out more specifics, but suffice it to say that there are a lot of plot twists, gun violence, and explosions that result from these actions. Also, there is a very bite-y snake. The artwork is cartoonish, which is slightly reminiscent of Dick Tracy to me, but I think it suits the story well. Also, I am glad to see a few wordless passages that clearly contribute to the storytelling. There are distinctive, compelling characters and situations that are well defined with the bold imagery and atmospheric coloring.

This book featured the best kind of crime story for me, with a morally dubious protagonist going up against some terrible people, with sparks flying at every turn. I read it in one sitting, then re-read it that very night. If you are a fan of comics and also mid-20th century American crime fiction, this graphic novel is for you. It's got strongly defined characters, snappy dialogue (which is a huge plus from an excellent translation), and lots of action.

This book is a collaboration between writer Fabien Nury and artist Brüno. Nury has written a number of comics and graphic novels, including the historical drama The Death of Stalin. Brüno has drawn several comics series, including Commando Colonial, many which seem to be historical pieces as well. The duo have also collaborated on a prior comic, Atar Gull, a tale about slavery. You can learn more about their work on Black Rock in this interview with Nury.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been very positive. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly summed up, "This ongoing series is sophisticated stuff, featuring some notably nasty moments in a hard-hitting genre winner." Scott VanderPloeg wrote, "I was thrown off the first few pages by the exaggerated physical appearances of the characters, but it’s a consistent look that plays with Nury’s exaggerated characters." Andy Hall added, "It took a while for me to warm up to Brüno’s art style, but once it grew on me, I couldn’t envision the book looking any other way."

Tyler Cross: Black Rock was published by Hard Case Crime/Titan Books, and they offer a preview and more about it here. This book features violence, profanity, and sexual situations, so it is recommended for readers mature enough to deal with those things.

This volume collects the first three issues of the series, and (happily for me) there will be a sequel available early next year. There is also another third series that just wrapped up here.

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