Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Something Fell

Anybody out there read Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith's comic Fell? Image published it, not quite a decade ago. It got into it because it was cheap, and I'd heard good things about Ellis' writing. Fell is Richard Fell, introduces himself as Rich, who's transferred to a place called Snowtown. He's a detective. Lots of the cases he works on in the 9 issues that were ever published of this comic come from real life cases that Ellis got a hold of in newspapers. In the first issue, Fell meets a barkeep called Mayko, and even though nothing they do constitutes flirting, you get that sort of vibe. Toward the end of the story, she brands his neck with a hot iron, giving him the symbol of Snowtown (you know, so he'll be safe).

I liked the approach to this comic right away. Sixteen pages of story, a few pages of backmatter (here actually titled Back Matter) in which the author goes on about the creative process, includes some fan letters, some pictures and whatnot. It's interesting, even when Ellis has no choice but to include pretty much only letters cause his allergies have transformed him into "Snot Tsunami Man" (issue 3).

Ellis has his critics, of course. Some say he's often just weird for weird's sake, other that he pushes the boundaries of taste for no good reason. Sometimes I see that. In Fell #2, for example, he puts in a coroner who's of course eating a sandwich when Fell enters the morgue. Cliche. But then the coroner drops a tomato onto the corpse, and eats it anyway.

Templesmith's art is heavily stylized, which means it either works for you or doesn't. He got big when he did 30 Days of Night. I like his work here. It's moody. And he draws the single most disturbing image of a nun in a Richard Nixon mask that anyone will ever come across. The nun's a recurring character.

Chris Eliopoulis letters the comic, and it's done in a subtle way that makes you forget there's a letterer. There are lots of signs and the like posted throughout the panels, so the lettering is actually a subtle part of the whole of Snowtown, which I like. 

The mysteries/crimes Fell has to solve are almost perfunctory. They exist just to hang the city and the characters on something, so why not have them be some of the more depraved acts of humanity, like smoke babies (issue 2) or the fact that bodies dumped in water get all horridly gross. Nonetheless, Fell gives us some great panels, such as this one, which begins issue 6:

It's funny how things seem to change over time, but don't. Cause I'm the one that's different. The only difference to these comics is that I left them sitting on my desk once, and I had cats back then. So one of the cats knocked over a cup of water, walked through it and then jumped onto the desk and walked all over the fell comics. So issues 6-9 have these dried cat footprint water damage to them. It's tempting to say that Fell isn't quite as good as I remember it, but that's not true. Ellis and Templesmith cram a lot into 16 pages, even issue 8, in which the 9-panel grid gives way to three panels per page for most of the issue. That issue, which concludes the single collected edition, has a great ending.

Ellis wanted to write fell to have something relatively cheap on the stands, for guys like me who can't justify the price of a monthly comic back then. The average comic was between $2.25 and $3 at that time. We need it even more now, as the average is now tipping towards four bucks.

So I'm rereading Fell in part because I wish there were more comics like it. It goes out of its way to be readable, to tell single-issue stories while developing a community through its back matter (an  idea for a series of blog posts: great single-issue stories of recent comics). It only lasted 9 issues (which I think had more to do with the creators not keeping up with it; it won a couple of Eisners, but Ellis' most recent word on it was in 2011). Because life's about to change in a pretty big way, I'm going to drop all of the comics on my pull list. I might've been inclined to keep one if it worked like Fell worked.

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