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Criminal: Coward

Since I’ve been writing a graphic novel based on my short-short stories, I’ve started reading other comics aimed at a literary or adult audience (see my recent review of American Splendor by Harvey Pekar) The most recent of this is the first of the Criminal series by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, Coward, which came out in 2006. These guys have won loads of awards and seem to be very well established in the comic universe.

Coward is what I guess you could call noir graphic novel material. It’s a story about a career criminal and a heist that goes all wrong. It’s a graphic novel in full colour. The drawing is competent featuring plenty of high contrast drawing reminiscent of noir films. On the positive side, I thought the artwork did a good job of propelling the story and creating atmosphere to enhance the story. At the same time I didn’t find it to be highly imaginative or full of character.

At the back of the book, the covers from the original serialization are printed. These covers, in my opinion, were far more compelling than artwork in the story. They reminded me of the kind of drawings on some old pulp fiction covers.

The story is strongly plot-driven. I found it difficult to empathize with any of the characters, really. There is loads of violence throughout. I understand that this is part of a series and so I expected some kind of to be continued ending, but I would have like to have better resolution of this particular story.

This series is apparently very popular. I had a look at some of the reviews on Goodreads, and most of the readers were very enthusiastic about this book, with just a smattering of readers who rated it (as I did) as just OK.

In the scheme of things, reading this book is part of my education into the world of graphic novels. Since I’m writing one, I ought to know what others have done in the genre, right? I guess most people who write a graphic novel are long-term fans of the genre.

If I compare this book with the last book of comics for an adult market I just read – the American Splendor anthology, I have to say this one is not in the same league. In fairness, the approaches are far different and I think there is room for this type of pulpy crime-oriented graphic novel – but Pekar’s work is much more up my alley. Coward is readable, fairly slick, well-paced, but not great.

If there are any graphic novel lovers out there, which ones do you recommend? No superheroes please.

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