by Carl R. Jansson
Each week I discuss the many things that happened in the nineties that made it a very dark decade for the comic industry, the things we would like to forget happened at all, and the things we just can’t seem to let go of. And pouches, so very many pouches. We also discuss the many things that made that decade truly a great time to be a fan. This week, I bring you another reason the nineties weren’t all bad.
David Lapham’s Stray Bullets.
In the mid-nineties, flashy artwork, garish color, and gimmicky covers were all the rage, so when David Lapham brought a black-and-white, melodramatic, and at times heartbreaking ultra-violent epic of low-life criminals and other social pariahs, the comic world stood up in awe. The award winning series was a breath of fresh air for many people, and was an instant hit as well as critical favorite. From 1995 until 2005, Lapham’s own publishing company, El Capitan Books, sporadically published 40 mind-blowing issues of Stray Bullets. And there are many who wished he had kept the story going, as 40 issues, especially issues this good, is just a tease.
To call it a crime comic would be like calling Twin Peaks a murder mystery. Sure, that’s true in the basest sense, but it is so much more than that. It is the other. Don’t believe me? Go here
and read the first four issues for free.
David Lapham’s stories were filled with quirky characters, wicked people doing wicked things, yet he builds a sympathy for them in a weird way as he interweaves their stories over the decades. We have Ginny Applejack, a victim of child abuse who transforms herself into Amy Racecar, a morally nihilistic gangster, Boonie and Clyde combined; A hit man who looks like Jesus Christ; a middle-aged clown with blood on his hands; a five-legged cow that inspires a revolution; an evil babysitter who drags a young boy through hell; and an armed mental patient who travels the universe searching for truth. Not your typical comic characters, by a long shot.
Stray Bullets was a hard series to read at times, due to its subject matter. It was an intense, dark, heartbreaking yet detached collection of the lives of deluded criminals, just knowing their next score could be their last chance at salvation, only to have savage consequences time after time. Brutal in its many instances of shattered truth and hopelessness, Lapham built an intricate, interesting, sometimes beautiful, and forever unforgettable world. You could tell that this was a labor of love for Lapham, as he put so much heart and soul into every twisted page and panel, showing us that sometimes there can be beauty in tragedy, and that hopelessness is a very dangerous feeling.
This groundbreaking series dealt with many, until then at least, taboo topics such as child abuse, drug usage, the brutality of murder, and quite a bit of sex. The Comics Code be damned. These stories of terrible people living destroyed lives will stick with your for a long while after you’ve turned the final page, and it is one more reason it was awesome being a fan of comics in the nineties. Next week, I’ll bring you another.