To observe that “war is hell” is so commonplace now, it has pretty much passed into the realm of tired cliché. It does not help that its sentiment is often cited equally by doves and hawks, the latter extolling the visceral virtue of combat. Violence is a difficult subject to represent, as even the most seemingly clear-cut anti-violence message can be twisted into something laudatory (as Stanley Kubrick was repulsed to discover with A Clockwork Orange). Indeed, there is a line of thought which states that all war films, regardless of intentions, are ultimately pro-war, as it is impossible to put combat on screen without glamorizing it. (This reviewer would extend such analysis to many supposedly “moralistic” gangster movies). For his new graphic novel Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash, Dave McKean successfully avoids many of these pitfalls. He accomplishes this by almost entirely skipping the battlefield sequences, concentrating instead of the more intimate emotional toll of warfare for the fallen and survivor alike. The result is a moving mediation on the true cost of war.
By Jason Latour, Ivan Brandon, Greg Hinkle & Matt Wilson
“The future will always be dark . . . A blank page we fill with aspiration.”
These words greet the reader at the opening of Image’s new series Black Cloud. In one sense they serve as an introspective beginning, as a narrator muses on the nature of storytelling. A story and time are the same as each captivate through the unknown. Suspense over what occurs in the next chapter is no different than anxiety over what might happen on a new day. The best is hoped for, even as the worst is feared. Stories provide a framework for processing these feelings, giving shape to otherwise undefinable internal rumblings. This clash of cheer and dread is elegantly expressed through Ivan Brandon’s script. (Brandon co-plotted the book with Jason Latour). The idea is further elaborated through Greg Hinkle’s riveting artwork. The first page depicts a flame drifting across an empty space. Fire has many connotations ranging from inspiration to destruction, either of which could be gleamed from Hinkle’s atmospheric illustration. This dynamic continues as the perspective pulls back revealing a seemingly pre-historic group sitting around a campfire. The storyteller finishes his tale, slinking off in exasperation before being confronted with an enormous, menacing creature. Hinkle’s art captures the wonder of this moment while still conveying its terror. This ambiance is greatly aided by Matt Wilson’s stellar coloring which lends a crackling energy to the confrontation which follows. It is a deft mixture of idea and spectacle which immediately draws the reader into this new world.