Released as a graphic novel under the Vertigo banner of DC Comics, The Originals is an alternate history of the Mod age. Part sci-fi gang story, part love letter to the age of the Mods as shown in the film Quadrophenia, The Originals is an aptly titled work with a lot to offer the sophisticated audience of Vertigo work.
For a fan of Sandman, Preacher and Hellblazer, there are few new comics to read that deliver the same emotional punch reminding the reader why he/she got into comics in the first place.
As the ‘adult’ arm of DC Comics acting as a teenager-centric imprint, Vertigo has developed some of the most well-written comic books of the last 15-20 years. It comes as no surprise that an artist traditionally associated with super-hero work would arrive to tell a tale that feels more like an independent film than a comic.
One of the finest sequential artists in the business, Dave Gibbons is a former contributer to 2000 AD. His art on characters such as Rogue Trooper and Doctor Who got the attention of DC Comics in the 80′s as they were looking to the UK for new talent. His initial work was on The Flash and later found a very happy home with Green Lantern (where’s the collection, DC??) and finally The Watchmen with Alan Moore.
His layout, pacing and facial expressions are unmistakable and have created a reputation for Gibbons as one of the masters of the art form.
His later work with Frank Miller on Give Me Liberty (see article) only built on his former strengths, and by combining them with Miller‘s writing gave readers one of the best comics ever made.
That brings us to his 2005 work, The Originals. A thinly veiled tale of Mods vs. Rockers, the graphic novel has a quality and mood unlike many modern comics.
The story follows the trouble-filled life of the frustrated Lell who just wants a hover (Vespa) and to be one of the Originals (Mods). He and his best mate Bok spend their nights dreaming of the life they’ll have zooming around on their own hovers with the Kings of Cool, The Originals.
Taking place in a post-war Britain where the state of youth culture is predominantly made up of irresponsible behavior, resentment and boredom,Lell and Bok have little to hope for other than a magical event to land in their laps and deliver them to the sacred land of Mod-dom. And that’s exactly what happens.
One night the duo are in the unusual situation to deliver the location of the rival gang The Dirt (The Rockers) to the Originals, leading to a bloody fist fight where Lell and Bok earn their place beside their heroes.
It all goes downhill for Lell and Bok from there.
The Originals is a book that works on multiple levels. So evocative are Gibbons‘ pages that they play on your musical memory. You can practically hear the music of the Kinks (particularly Waterloo at Sunset), Paul Weller‘s soulful wailing and raucous railing with The Jam, and of course Pete Townsend‘s ghostly somber lyric ‘Why should I care… why should I care?’ from Cut My Hair off of Quadrohpenia.
A soulful and heartfelt work, it’s surprising that DC Comics would publish it. Nothing against the Batman/Superman publisher, but a comic of this quality and feeling would seem more at home with Fantagraphics or some other independent publishing house. Even more surprising is that the current writer of Green Lantern Corps (which I must add is an incredible action comic) would have an interest in creating a comic like this.
But that’s how comics go. Alan Moore wrote WildCATs and From Hell, Brian Michael Bendis wrote AKA Goldfish and continues to write Ultimate Spider-Man.
It takes all kinds.
Green Lantern Corps: Recharge
Green Lantern Corps Vol. 1: To Be a Lantern
The Rann-Thanagar War (Countdown to Infinite Crisis)
Dragon’s Claw (Doctor Who)
Rogue Trooper: Future War (2000 AD Presents)
Something Else by the Kinks
Paul Weller-Hit Parade
The Sound of the Jam
Beat This: The Best of the English Beat
Quadrophenia (Special Edition)