Posted by: Abhay Khosla on August 11, 2012
It’s one of the more critically well-received periodical comics of the year, so THAT MEANS 10 THINGS about PROPHET by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milogiannis, Farel Dalrymple, Joseph Bergin III, Ed Brisson, Eric Stephenson, Richard Ballermann, and FRIENDS and/or ACQUAINTANCES.
Usual Spoiler Warnings. And usual quality warnings– I don’t know how I feel about how this one turned out; this turned out to be a tougher comic to talk about than I’d hoped– I got distracted a lot, I failed to say enough about the art really which is pretty numbingly stupid of me for a book where the art’s as important as it is here, and I don’t really know that I actually talked about anything important, and it gets a little creepy there at the end, so I thank you in advance for your generosity and/or I sympathize with your derision. Anyways, I took a shot at it. And yeah– eventually, we’re going to do really quick, sloppy 10 Things and get back to the original premise where it was quick and sloppy… that’s going to be how we do things from here on out. I don’t know– now I have to debate what I want to do with the rest of my day; lazy day. Okay. Well. It’s time to play the music and light the lights.
The PROPHET comic we’re talking about here is the resurrection of an earlier comic launched in about ’93-ish, that ended sometime in, I don’t know, 96-ish(?). They just started publishing it again, starting with issue 21 — I guess they thought the cuteness of starting a comic at issue 21 for no reason was worth potentially blowing their foot off with new readers. Sweet…?
What was the 1990’s PROPHET like? I don’t feel qualified to answer that. Or at least, I realized I knew someone else who could talk about the 1990’s Prophet, more eloquently than I could hope to.
So, ladies and gentlemen, here is Jon Davis, screenwriter, gentleman, and auteur of the upcoming web-series “Jon Davis Gets a Sex Robot” (now casting!), and a story about what the very first issue of PROPHET meant to him. As a preface, I wrote to him asking him if my half-memory of this story he’d told previously was true:
Oh, it’s all true. And a source of only good things in life, actually.
When I was in college, my roommate and I carved out the Prophet #1 cover, specifically the groin area and placed it over the light switch. So whenever we turned on the light, Prophet with his shoulder pads and creased face and small hands and bulging thighs and too many teeth looked like he was having a raging, angry boner. It never got old. People came into our room a lot. And it was a great conversation piece.
Did you know Dan Panosian inked this cover? I met Dan a few years ago. In our first ever meeting, I took a conversational risk and told Dan exactly what I did to Prophet. We are now very close friends. Sometimes, he and I, while driving to Vegas, talk about Prophet. About the boner. About life. That raging light switch boner has been an instigator of friendship twice in my life. In 1993 and 2010.
Is that Prophet cover one of the best things that’s ever happened to me? Maybe. It’s definitely up there. I’d say it’s important, that’s for sure.
So, the relaunched PROPHET.
Start with description, categorization, classification? I’d file Prophet under “BIOPUNK SPACE OPERA.”
Sometimes, I see PROPHET labeled as science fiction, and some ancient, dumbshit, kneejerk snobbiness in me twitches. Half-memories of ancient arguments that these things are DIFFERENT, of a different intellectual caliber, for a different audience, one cultured, the other beyond any ability to be civilized. Space opera was always hopelessly less than “true” science fiction (WHICH MUST NEVER BE REFERRED TO AS SCI FI because … I don’t even remember why…). I’m also old enough where “space opera” still buzzes in my ear with negative connotations, some ancient divide that started before my time because, I don’t know, Harlan Ellison and Andy Offut probably had words in some Society of Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Hilton ballroom soiree in Rhode Island way back when. (Offut was more a fantasy guy, but spare me a google search for a better name there). Space Opera was the world of Waldenbooks trilogies, bereft of Allegory or Extrapolation– science fiction’s critical secret sauces.
This was all before the “New Space Opera”, though– Iain Banks and his Culture novels; whatever else has gotten published after I stopped paying attention to science fiction. (I discovered girls, in a rainforest, so you can all suck it using your erotic mouths, non-traditional literary genres!)(I don’t know why; the future just got old). These are probably old, dead “rules,” and I’ve just forever got my backpack only on one shoulder, here. The last time I checked, the hot noisiness in science fiction was “mundane sf“, a depressing-sounding strain built around a hopeless surrender to the currently understood limitations posed by various scientific laws e.g. “science fiction … with advice from a scientist, and with an endnote by that scientist explaining the plausibility of the story“. Weee!
There seems to be a strain of scientific fanatacism, good story be damned, that science fiction sometimes seems to invite, even if to its peril, that I guess I’ve been / maybe-still-am jerk enough to be sympathetic to. Some shitty part of me’s always got the square/cube law in the back of my head, trying to ruin giant Kaiju monsters. (Kaiju monsters win anyways because of course they do, but). To be fair, though, as Bruce Sterling put it in one of my all-time favorite speeches: “A good science fiction story is not a ‘good story’ with a polite whiff of rocket fuel in it.”
There’s also obviously a strain of it that seems susceptible to subcults, rival schools, manifestos, fashion– the cyberpunk guys never really called themselves the Cyberpunk Pals; they thought they were the “Movement.”
But so, PROPHET: space opera– guys with swords fighting it out in a conveniently monster-filled expanse of outer space, plus the requisite amount of used-bookstore paperback covers sexuality (e.g. the last issue featuring one of the he-man protagonists straddled by some kind of cross between a salamander and a girl from the Freek-A-Leek video).
I’d throw on the word biopunk– not 100% sure if I’m using that term correctly, though. By biopunk, I just mean to say it’s more interested in wet things than sleek hardware, organic slop more than the ergonomic, erotic plugs and silicon ports of a William Gibson novel (the Sharper Image future Marc Laidlaw satirized in Dad’s Nuke way back when, before he became the Half Life 2 guy). (Yay, obscure references to books I read in high school! I’m building to a Robert Aspirin Phule’s Company monologue).
PROPHET’s built more on clones, monsters, slime, muck, decay, body horror than tech. The engine of each issue so far has tended to be a manipulated clone struggling to survive a hostile, alien environment. Actual, purposeful antagonists have tended to be rare– the only one that springs to mind had motivations as inscrutable as its surroundings; simple survival’s made for enough drama.
I do have one half-memory about the 1990’s PROPHET, that may be pertinent to chatting about the current iteration, though– but it’s not one google seems to be backing me up on, so buyer beware: did Rob Liefeld sell 90’s Prophet in the interviews of that era as an expression of his faith as some variety of Christian? Half-memories.
I didn’t read 90’s PROPHET so I don’t know how that panned out. You know: according to pre-release interviews, YOUNGBLOOD was going to be about celebrity culture; Hank Kanalz maybe didn’t get that memo.
Is there a spiritual reading to the current iteration?
Heck, that reading’s probably unavoidable with a title like PROPHET. One of the great delights of the current PROPHET comic has been the slow, gradual emergence of what looks to be one of the book’s major plotlines: the 90’s PROPHET surprisingly re-emerging at the same time as current-era PROPHET clones (i.e. the stars of the first few issues), who he insists upon murdering on sight.
I’ve never been able to make it all the way through most of your major holy books, but true prophets driven to slaughter false prophets of fraudulent dieties? That sure sounds like it could be a Thing from what little I did manage to read.
The bit about the spiritual reading of PROPHET that I’m keen on is how divorced the reader is so far to what they’re fighting over, how little the universe around them and its oblivious aliens seem to care. That appeals to me, that at the heart of the book is a religious conflict presented with a total apathy that is closest to how I consume and process actual religious conflicts. Most comics dramatize their religious conflicts– Marvel with its dirt-stupid evil Muslim aliens, or whatever. But I don’t process religious conflicts as dramatic so much as clownish, pathetic and primitive because blah blah blah, I’m close-minded and I don’t respect the beliefs of others, basically.
The book started with a heroic character wanting to restore humanity to the universe– an essentially religious mission– but the book has been subsequently ambivalent to that mission. PROPHET has never attempted to buttress that first characters’ mission with any moral imperative, never argued any reason why it would be a good thing for humanity to be restored; indeed, if anything, later issues have cast that initial protagonist in a negative light, suggested that humanity’s restoration would plunge the universe back into endless warfare. I haven’t read as much 2000AD as other people, but these themes feel more cynical and of that tradition, than the typical North American “Oh shit dude, it’s people that are the Walking Dead, like in the title you guys” speechifying from “proud liars and fraudsters.” No one in PROPHET seems to care about humanity being restored to the universe, except to the extent they’ve been neurochemically programmed to. No one in PROPHET is really even very human, at least under our current, maybe limited definitions. (See, Chip Zdarsky, re: science fiction about What It Means to Be Human).
Of course, this is all pleasurable when talking about the specific four corners of the book, but maybe troubling beyond that. I should probably have more of a fucking rooting interest in the human species than I do. If there were no humans, who would we make fun of on the internet? “Oh shit Oh shit,” your brain just said.
As referenced above, PROPHET is more a issue-by-issue pleasure. Each issue tends to shift protagonist, based on that issue’s artist with (seemingly) Simon Roy and Farel Dalrymple so far featuring the Clone Prophets, Giannis Milonogiannis featuring the Old Prophet, and Graham himself so far featuring the Old Prophet’s robot sidekick (plus a worthwhile selection of backup comic artists with 4-page art-driven comics). Each issue tends to “stand-alone” and feature a complete adventure, but with each issue published, a greater narrative comes slowly into focus: something about war… something about betrayal…
This emphasis on the “stand-alone” is maybe coming into fashion, too…? This last little while, maybe even the last couple weeks especially, I feel like I’ve picked up on this sentiment more than once– an affirmation of the importance of the single issue. (I feel like I’ve heard about more than one Marvel book where a focus on the issues is part of the sales pitch. I’ve just been chalking the mainstream end of that talk up as just ride!-ride-the-coattails-forever! on Warren Ellis’s well-received SECRET AVENGERS run, but I know I’ve read enough $4 comics that have gotten stuck in long, go-nowhere arcs with no end ever in sight — and I’ve probably put up with less of those than some of you may have– to chalk it all up as good news, as a W. Still, pour Mountain Dew into a wine glass– you ain’t drinking merlot, all the sudden)
The positive thing, there: a comic that treats the issue like a destination is a comic more likely to go memorably off the rails, to feature brief, singular shocks that books oriented to larger arcs can’t accommodate. Obvious examples: The Doom Patrol– I fetishize the Monseur Mallah issue, the Beard Hunter; Daredevil– I’ve had that Inferno crossover on my mind lately; Sandman– Prez, the Serial Killer convention; I have half-memories that Neal Gaiman used to shout-out the Curse issue of Swamp Thing as being a turning point for him, as a reader. Heck, Gaiman built a pretty decent career off using the serial comic as a short story container– a career move that proved bizarrely un-influential, if you look around you now, anywhere other than online where the comic short story is arguably being resurrected.
(On the other hand, equal time: there were reasons people started wanting longer arcs, to begin with. No abscribing morality to a pendulum, right? So, I take this kinda talk just as fashion more than anything worth speaking about prescriptively, how-life-should-be, etc. And these were all diversions from books that would have been fairly memorable without them, undiverted).
PROPHET, though– well, it hasn’t gone too far off the rails yet. About every issue has featured a Prophet-character journeying from point A to point B. The structure lets Graham & co. focus on world-building, idea-driven digressions, the contextual details that Graham was rightly praised for with KING CITY, small-moment storytelling (I especially liked the bit where one of the Prophet clones pisses off a cliff)(not because I got to see wieners, you don’t see wieners, get your mind out of the gutter). It’s a move that has kept the creators/book’s strengths in the foreground. The cost? Each issue has tended to end on a note a reader might say “oh, okay” to, more than anything one can imagine a reader feeling any emotions for, more than notes of tragedy or comedy, say. There’s usually not a sign of any structure being fulfilled to these issues other than the journey completed, travel to PROPHET being what fights are to other comics.
(Issue 24 with its poisoned, decaying Prophet clones comes closest to providing “emotional content”, I’d say, to the extent you care about that kind of thing– that was my favorite one so far, at least, though it’s pretty difficult for me to speak ill of time spent with some Farel Dalrymple art).
Half-memories again: old film reviews, science fiction writers of the hey-day complaining that the production design in ALIEN drowned out the science fiction– that was a thing some people cared about back when. So, granted: maybe I’m paying attention to the wrong things; history may not be on my side here.
The thing that makes PROPHET noteworthy more than any intrinsic quality is how it seems to be a little eruptive point for people otherwise bubbling under the surface. I’d somehow gotten wind of Giannis Milonogiannis’s OLD CITY BLUES in 2010 sometime– that’s all worth a look, by the by; but other people in the mix here– Simon Roy, some of the backup artists– are fresh names for me. A big part of the appeal of PROPHET is seeing Brandon Graham use the book as a stage for people he finds worthwhile, people in his “scene” (for lack of a better word).
My apartment lately is filled with these comics I’ve ordered over the internet, a couple that got sent to me. In arm’s reach, I have let’s see: Michel Fiffe’s Suicide Squad comic and ZEGAS books, Ryan Cecil Smith’s SF comics, Box Brown’s FUCK SHITS, something called DARK TOMATO, something called PEDESTRIAN, a comic about transvestite gentleman-bandits called DRAG BANDITS. Comics don’t really have the rival gangs like science fiction, everyone wants to be nice (YUCK), but it at least has these studios, cliques, small press outfits, lone operators out in the wilderness, micro-scenes, etc., that maybe aren’t really reflected in a Joe Average comic shop, that you could read comics and not be plugged into, not even know that you’re not plugged into. That’s only becoming more the case now with the internet, this centrifugal action.
So there is a kind of excitement of PROPHET, at least for me, where it feels like a slightly greater mass of comics-dom plugging into a community of cartoonists that would otherwise be scattered or it would take more of an effort on a reader’s part to connect with. I’m curious how much of PROPHET’s audience is interacting with it in that way.
I feel like the word we keep circling around is “fashion.” I guess I think PROPHET is a “cool” comic. I guess find it fashionable.
Its influences seem relatively hip. Metal Hurlant / Heavy Metal gets thrown around a lot in talking about the comic (usually referring more to Moebius or Corben than Serge Clerc); some Conan comics that’d be lost on me; based on Brandon Graham’s blogs, probably a mess of other comics I’m way, way too snooty for.
It’s more likely than not that the person with this Philippe Druillet tattoo would vibe way harder with PROPHET than I would. Or … at least their back would.
So, then: am I crowing about PROPHET’s merits more because those merits (single issue stories! funny acknowledgments of the importance of sex!) are unusual in the context of their publication, “scratching an itch” that had gone unscratched, etc.? It’s a serial storytelling environment; we can review these books in isolation from one another, but anyone who’s ever spread their comics across their floor and carefully chosen which book to read first knows that’s not how they’re getting read, right?
I mean, probably it doesn’t matter, but what’s interesting to me and why I raise this is that some kind of unspoken analysis does actually seem to be getting done by PROPHET readers. 9 times out of 10 that I’ve seen someone online reference PROPHET, it’s some variation of “I’m glad that SAGA and PROPHET are both coming out at the same time.” I feel as though I’m constantly seeing those two books being linked. No one seems to be consuming PROPHET in isolation. And the implication is always that there’s some greater good in that.
What is that greater good? If you’re reading both, is there a synergy to that linkage, some greater electricity for you that both are being published at about the same time, or is it just a curiosity, a quirk of history? Does one good science fiction comic make the existence of the other good “science fiction” comic better somehow? And if so, what does it mean? Is PROPHET good because it’s fashionable, or fashionable because it’s good? Does it matter either way?
In the most recent issue of PROPHET, issue # I don’t know what number because they started these things in the goddamn 20’s and I can’t even remember phone numbers anymore, and people think I’m going to remember some crazy arbitrary two-digit number– anyways, the August issue commences with Old Prophet riding an alien space-worm.
What the fuck is up with science fiction / fantasy dudes and worms? What is that even about?
I get why, if you’re Frank Herbert, you’d want to spice up outer space– I WIN I WIN BECAUSE I MADE YOU READ THAT. When NASA’s not flinging robots out there, outer space is mostly some empty-ass, boring shit. But … why is a goddamn worm so constantly salt and pepper and cumin for science fiction people? Why is THAT the #1 Alien Other spirit animal of skiffy?
Granted, according to the latest science, worms used in experiments on the space station not only “seemed to enjoy living in a microgravity environment,” but also received a lifespan boost. Pretty interesting stuff there, science. But that’s a fairly recent development, well after the widespread penetrance of worms in science fiction culture.
I haven’t dug any of PROPHET’s covers.
One cover will be a (digitally painted?) painting of Prophet with his back to readers, waving a wrench a knife at a bird. Another cover will be a (traditionally colored?) ink-drawing of Prophet sitting … somewhere?… with everything colored grey-ish brown, the color of fun. Another cover is back to the (some kind of) painting, of Prophet and … it looks like he’s stuck in a wad of bubblegum, and trying to finger-bang a pre-adolescent ghost-girl, and they’re all floating somewhere… somewhere black…?
This is made all the more difficult to comprehend by the fact this is a comic with Frank Teran’s phone number.
I’ve followed Brandon Graham’s blog for some years now, and it’s a fine thing to follow– a collection of images and comics that suggest from where he’s constructing the aesthetic reflected in PROPHET. But having done so, I can say the part where he usually loses me is with covers, where it’s usually some manga girl with cat ears, on a robot bike, licking a popsicle or whatever. So, if I’m more generous about it all, I have to figure maybe I’m just not on the same train re: comic covers, generally, and say the things I like about PROPHET are at least built out of some of the same materials as this thing I don’t, you know?
So, I thought writing 10 Things about various Image comics would be fun to do because I’d get to talk about creator owned comics, and with all the hype of this year, I could do that finally with less of that sour taste I usually get from that enterprise. “You made this comic for no money out of love? Thanks– I needed something to wipe my butt with.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that, but all the same it can be a bummer to dwell on. But with all the hype of this year, the Year of the Creator, I’m a little more okay with that, so here we are.
But here we are and we’re talking about PROPHET, a work-for-hire comic. And two or three lawsuits in, you’d really have to have your head all the way up your ass to think Image-logo is any promise you’re handing your money to necessarily ethical people, and everything’s going to turn out roses.
Who are we dealing with? Rob Liefeld. What does that mean? It’s hard to say– the fact he draws so badly tends to dominate any conversation about he guy, so you usually end up hearing either “Something something feet” (as a dude who’s not into feet, dudes being into feet is the most alien of space-worms for me), or “he created Deadpool!” Liefeld: 20-Year Businessman doesn’t get much talk after all that Weirdo Passion has exhausted itself.
I realized I had half-memories, again, people claiming that Image’s spectacular failure to timely ship DEATHMATE put stores out of business. Wikipedia on DEATHMATE includes a section labelled Aftermath. I thought it wise to put it to a certain Mr. Brian Hibbs, for comment:
It wasn’t all Deathmate, for sure, because while late shipping books were a problem (oh yes!), the BIGGER problem was that all of the speculators left the market en masse, once they figured out how they were being rooked on their so-called “investments”. Deathmate was a problem… but Turok #1 and Adv of Superman #500 (The “Superman Returns!” issue) were at least as large of a disaster for the market… and they were right on time.
Other half-memories: attacking Alan Moore– though in 2012, that’s become more fashionable than anything in PROPHET. Google’s got my back on half-memories re: Dan Fraga, stating “you backhanded me in front of my 12 year old brother and the receptionist,” with Liefeld responding “You were a man, not a child. You acted like a punk and I popped you.” Googling Hank Kanalz finds you 90’s Peter David, talking about how Liefeld blamed the deficiencies of the first issue of YOUNGBLOOD on Kanalz (though to be fair, in an epically horrible series of essays from David, where he contorts himself into stating “Ultimately—insanely—the only answer [as to who created CABLE] would seem to be: Marvel Comics” as Liefeld ONLY created Cable’s look and name–!!! The lawsuits we now get to read about are arguably only manifestations of a disregard for comic artists that existed way back when that zombie guy was in diapers).
So: nothing resembling a smoking gun; but nothing where I’m exhaling a long deep breath, either, and throwing confetti in the air.
I don’t know. If we wait to give our money to only Good People, we’d likely wait a long time. At the same time, Image’s marketing campaign in the last year has been built around positioning Image as some kind of ethical choice. I don’t think they’ve been wrong to do that– comics are a high-priced luxury good; thinking about the consumption of those in an ethical way doesn’t seem like the greatest burden. There are people whose comics I don’t buy (or TV shows I don’t watch)– and you know, people mind when you say that, but fact is I don’t miss any of them, not one bit. There’s too much good stuff in the world to do that.
Hopefully, most PROPHET readers won’t be bringing the Joe-versus-the-Volcano level baggage that I do to this comic, any comic, these mountains of maybe-incorrect half-memories re: Liefeld, Harlan Ellison, Prophet’s boner, people I never met doing things I never saw to other people I don’t know. And in an ideal world, I could tell you that I’m feeling more okay with myself about buying PROPHET than I do when I buy the FLASH (the only DC comic I’m really reading these days) or FURY (same for Marvel, unless you count ICON).
Referenced above, sometimes the back-up comics featured in PROPHET are by Frank Teran.
Those are incredibly sweet.
If you don’t have a comic shop in walking distance, you can preview/buy PROPHET starting with issue 21 at Brian’s digital comic shop. I’ve also heard exciting rumors that you might soon be able to order a wife through Brian’s digital comics shop, one that almost speaks English. Do you dream of marital bliss with a desperate communist? Our operators will probably soon be standing by.