Tag Archives: Sean Phillips

Songs of Goodbye; Review of “My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies” by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Mannequin gaze from a femme fatale

Notice her tiger stripes of shadow? She’s deadly.

The newest window into the world of “Criminal” is fogged with sorrow & deception. Ellie (a.k.a. Angela) standing on a lonely beach serves as bookends to this noir comic. Her mannequin gaze invites us into the book and betrays the ice that must flow in her veins; she’s our femme fatale, a predator. The choice of setting is deliberate. The shoreline is a symbol of stark contrast – an area where the colors don’t mix and where there’s more below than there is above. What’s lurking in those depths? What lies beyond that horizon? This place is where Ellie contemplates the memory of her dead mother and a life she never knew. A life of love.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies pg. 3

page 3

The story appears simple in the beginning: Two addicts (Ellie & Skip) stuck in rehab & falling in love. We want to believe it’s that simple. It makes sense to us. But it isn’t simple, and it’s clear from early pages that there’s only one way this will end. You see, Ed Brubaker gives us an untrustworthy narrator – what’s more, he tells us she can’t be trusted within the first few pages: “All junkies are liars on some level” she says. This conceit is exceptionally noir. It creates a level of discomfort that most readers aren’t okay with. We like our narrators to be honest with us. It’s easier that way.

“I don’t like pretending to be something that I’m not.” (she says as she pretends to be something she’s not for the rest of the book)

Barring a whole synopsis, sufficeth to say that Ellie’s goal is to seduce Skip and convince him to give up his father’s location (who’s been hiding in witness protection). She has powerful motives for doing so (a blood debt to settle), and when pleasure fails to win Skip’s trust, she has no choice but to turn him over to pain. She hates herself but it’s difficult for the reader to hate her. We actually admire her for the ‘honor among thieves’ aspect of her sacrifice. Ellie owed a debt and she paid it in full. (The inevitability & deception is beautifully tragic. Textbook noir crime fiction).

A central theme of the novella is how Ellie romanticizes drug abuse. She frequently turns to the works of fantastic musicians and artists and points out how influential drugs were in the development of their most impactful contributions. She argues that drugs weren’t only helpful, but essential to some of the greatest works of art known to mankind.

“What if drugs help you find that thing that makes you special?”

Her own mother was a heroin addict, and Ellie had problematic proximity to the practice of abuse during her formative years. Ellie saw drugs as deifying – a means of escape & transformation. She said that her mother floated like a beautiful bird when she dosed.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies pg. 15

page 15

Music also permeates the story. Ellie speaks of a mixtape she found after her mother’s death. It was a cassette made for her father; songs of love & longing from parents she never quite knew. The tracks are all written by addicts, and ooze with sorrow, conflict, desire, & hope. For her, music is a time machine. Each song another injection of sweet nostalgia (isn’t music like that for most of us?) (Here’s a link to a playlist featuring the songs mentioned in the book)

“I was much further out than you thought, and not waving but drowning.”

A few years back my parents divorced. Their song was “Babe” by The Styx. It didn’t strike me until now that theirs was a song of goodbye. How could their relationship have ended any different? I wonder which of them chose it? Or if they ever contemplated the real meaning of the song? “My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies” is full of songs of goodbye. Goodbye truth, goodbye innocence, goodbye love.

Postscript – A note on the quality of this graphic novel:

I’m struck by the thickness of the no-gloss pages and the overall quality of the work as a whole. Sean Phillips is as good as I’ve ever seen him – perhaps cleaner in his line work than I’ve noticed in his other Criminal novels. The coloring style is a bit different but after an additional read through I felt that it works. It’s pastel in many areas and there are lots of page breaks where white space is left to breathe. This gives the appearance color splashes & and a highlighter effect. I wonder how conscious the creators were of this choice? It actually adds to the sense of incompleteness which comes through the narrative poignantly through Ellie. Ed Brubaker’s script is intentional and well-paced – in some areas reminiscent of Frank Herbert: where a character is thinking one thing, saying another thing, and acting out something entirely different. These multilayered moments can be difficult to follow if you’re unfamiliar with the style, but I feel that Brubaker executes this wonderfully (and the comic format is perfectly suited for the task).

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Noir Comics | Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

Noir Comics Fatale Ed Brubaker Sean Phillips

Fatale by Ed Brubake and Sean Phillips

Fatale is a noir and horror genre cross-breed from my favorite creator team, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Brubaker’s tale is his most complex and twisted yet, spanning a half-century of events told in tandem. Phillips’ art is an exercise in style, his own now-so-recognizable as it enters its fully-realized maturity. I was delighted to trudge through muddy uni-sized panels as dark as any noir and darker for their horrific tilt. Taken as a whole, Fatale is cosmic Lovecaftian noir orbiting an undying femme fatale.

Noir Comics Fatale Josephine

(via dadsbigplan.com)

Where the complexity of the plot intimidates, it’s important to pay close attention to the characters and events as they unfold. Fatale is not a lazy reader, to be taken in random snippets on assorted afternoons; It’s made to be read in the deep throat of night, white knuckles turning pages and reexamining panels for hidden, less-obvious, details.

Noir Comics Fatale

(via comicsalliance.com)

The setting is split between our present-day and the 1950s- with the same seductive and ageless woman in the center of the action.  In former times, we see San Francisco reporter Hank Raines falling into the fatal perfumed pitfalls of classic noir fare. While in our day, Nicolas Lash discovers a secret that sets him on a perilous and dark trajectory, dooming him to repeat the past. The woman that spans the century in question, Josephine, breaks the archetypical mold of the femme fatale, becoming a creature of fantastical power and influence. Most femme fatale themes within the noir genre deal directly with the idea of resistance, but what if you are physically unable to resist her? What if you must obey? This theme of helpless obedience, of complete power wielded by the female lead, comprises the central theme of this groundbreaking noir comic.

Horror Comics Fatale

(via superpunch.blogspot.com)

We need more creators who aren’t afraid to push the noir comics genre into new realms. Brubaker and Phillips have been staking new boundaries for years, I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Fatale Josephine Sean Phillips

(via itsadansworld.net)

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Noir Art | Sean Phillips

Noir Art Sean Phillips Dan Marlowe

(via surebeatsworking.blogspot.com)

Sean Phillips is a superb noir artist. I admit that I don’t know much about him, only what I’ve gleaned from his blogs and the back material of the many comics I’ve read. I know that he lives in England, and that he regularly attends a life-painting class (he always posts his work the following day). At Emerald City Comic-Con last year, I asked Ed Brubaker when he was going to get Sean to come out for an event. He said it was difficult because of the distance.

My lack of knowledge concerning this marvelous artist aside, he has created some truly magnificent noir art. He is adding to the noir genre on a frequent basis, and for that I am extremely grateful. I hope to meet him one day, to thank him. Head over and support his blog (its drowning in fine work): surebeatsworking.blogspot.com

Noir Art Sean Phillips

(via surebeatsworking.blogspot.com)

Noir Art Sean Phillips Fatale Cover

Fatale Cover (via surebeatsworking.blogspot.com)

Noir Art Sean Phillips The Last of The Innocent Cover

Criminal: The Last of The Innocent Cover (via surebeatsworking.blogspot.com)

Noir Art Sean Phillips Criminal Bad Night Cover

Criminal: Bad Night Cover (via surebeatsworking.blogspot.com)

Noir Art Sean Phillips Femme Fatale

(via surebeatsworking.blogspot.com)

Noir Art Sean Phillips Black and White Panel

(via surebeatsworking.blogspot.com)

Noir Art Sean Phillips Criminal The Last of the Innocent Cover

Criminal: The Last of The Innocent Cover (via surebeatsworking.blogspot.com)

Noir Art Sean Phillips Criminal Sinners Cover Issue 3

Inked Cover Criminal: The Sinners Issue 3 (via emptykingdom.com)

Noir Art Sean Phillips Snake Eyes

(via surebeatsworking.blogspot.com)

Noir Art Sean Phillips Teeg Lawless

Teeg Lawless, my favorite Sean Phillips painting (via emptykingdom.com)

I’m sure that Sean has many years of seductive noir art left for us.

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