I have read pretty much every comic Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have created. Their past series, like Sleeper, Criminal, Incognito, Fatale, The Fade-Out, and Kill or Be Killed, have blown me away with their blend of action and intrigue in noir fashion. In the past, these books have been published serially as comic books and then collected as trade paperbacks, but with My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, they tried their hand at a stand-alone graphic novel. I really dug that book, and it must have been successful in a number of ways, because the duo has embarked on publishing a series of individual graphic novels. The first is this one, Pulp.
Although it is not set in the same universe as Criminal, it shares that series' feel and tone. The narrative here focuses on Max Winter, an aged writer of western pulp stories. Getting up in years, he is worried about money issues, heart problems, making sure his partner Rosa is squared away in the eventuality of his death, and the rise of fascists who support Hitler in pre-WWII New York City. Facing a lower page rate and also a thinning revenue stream as his publisher hires younger and cheaper writers, Max starts plotting a robbery. It turns out that the westerns he writes are not totally fictional, and what is more, a Pinkerton detective has noticed that these stories smack of crimes he once investigated.
As you can see from the excerpt, one of the strong parts of this book is its intertwined accounts of different time periods. These shifts are clearly marked with changes in coloring, which is here done by Jacob Phillips. The artwork and storytelling are lean and mean, building a highly detailed and recognizable situation and characters almost immediately. This graphic novel is more of a novella in terms of length, but it's a dense, enjoyable read. Although the story itself may be treading somewhat familiar ground for a pulp-type tale, it is exceptionally well-crafted. Sometimes you just crave a great piece of genre fiction, and this book is just that.
The reviews I have read of this book have been largely positive. Publishers Weekly wrote, "The only disappointment in this tight, fast-paced homage to multiple pulp traditions is that it’s so short." Bruno Savill de Jong concluded, "Brubaker and the Phillips remain a fantastic team for satisfying and compelling crime stories. They might have remained in their comfort zone, but for the moment, they show little reason to move out." Tom Shapira wanted a little bit more out of this book, opining, "It gives you exactly what you expect, without challenging you in any meaningful way, while providing the illusion of challenge."