The Writing of D. F. Lovett

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Consider Scalped, by Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera

 

A recurring feature on this blog will be recommendations for comic series that you should read, with tips and analysis to help you determine whether or not you will enjoy them.  Also, no spoilers.  Let’s consider the series Scalped, (by Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera), as both an excellent comic book series and a good example to understand comics themselves.  

Scalped is a series consisting of sixty issues, which are available in ten volumes.  A good way to look at this is that each issue is like an episode of a television show: they appear once a month, they take one sitting to enjoy, and they are typically self-contained while telling a larger story.  They cost between $1 and $4 and are somewhere around 32 pages. They are then collected into volumes, which come as trade paperbacks and collect between five and twelve issues, with the ads removed.  

That said, let’s talk about why Scalped is something worth reading, and, if you have not read a comic book before, it’s an excellent series to start with.

Image

The cover of Scalped: Indian Country, the first volume of the ten volume series.

Without giving anything away, (all recommendations on this blog will be spoiler-free), Scalped is like a mash-up of The Sopranos and The Wire, set on a Sioux Reservation in South Dakota.  It takes some of its inspiration from the story of Leonard Peltier, as well as exploring tribal politics, tensions between Native Americans and whites, alcoholism and drug abuse, the corrupting influence of power and money, The American Indian Movement and the FBI and the war in Kosovo.  With the inclusion of Hmong characters in the Twin Cities, gay assassins, and Lakota spirituality, it’s safe to say that you have not read anything quite like this.  The cast includes at least a dozen compelling characters, and the storyline frequently features brutal cliffhangers and shocking turns.

Let’s try to break it down in a few more ways, that will help you determine whether its up your alley:

Accessibility: High.  You don’t need any advanced knowledge of any characters or universes, as the story is self-contained to these ten volumes.  Furthermore, whether or not you know much about Reservation life, the Sioux culture, the Leonard Peltier case, meth labs, or casinos, you can follow the storyline and absorb the ideas.  

Rating if would have if it was a movie: R, without a doubt.

Potential to be adapted into a movie or television show: Very high.  I will be surprised if Scalped does not end up as either a Showtime, HBO, or AMC series within the next five years.  

Intense or Light Reading: This is not light reading.  You pick this up on your lunch break, and you will have trouble going back to work or class after.  

What About the Art?:  I will not pretend to be an art expert, but I would say that the art of Scalped resembles the storytelling.  It’s accessible, it’s realistic, and it’s compelling.

Image

Another moment from Scalped, and a beautiful example of some of the art found in it.

   

Are the pages a bunch of little boxes?: No.  This seems important to point out.  If you haven’t read comics since you were a child, or if your understand of comics stems from what your local newspaper publishes on Sundays, then you may imagine that a standard comic book page has the same structure as a tic-tac-toe board.  Scalped, like most comic books today, has evolved beyond that style.

Publisher: Vertigo.  This might mean nothing to you at this point.  Vertigo is an “imprint” of DC, which is the publisher responsible for Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and a few other names you may recognize.  (There will be more on this in a future post named “Marvel and DC: Understanding the Two Party System of Comic Books”).  

Portrayal of Minorities and Women: Healthy. While moral ambiguity runs rampant in this series, no one is reduced to a stereotype based on their demographic.  The one thing I initially questioned was the portrayal of the Hmong gangsters, but after giving it some thought I decided that the author was simply telling the story in a way that he thought fit and seemed realistic, and the presence of Hmong gangsters was not racist or malicious (although I would be interested if anyone viewed this differently).  

 

Pairings

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If you liked Stringer Bell in The Wire, you will love Lincoln Red Crow in Scalped.

Television: Scalped pairs well with Breaking Bad, The Wire, or The Sopranos.  It’s contemporary, it’s gritty, it’s full of anti-heroes and tragedy.  Characters die without warning, while the various ostensible main characters scalp their enemies, shoot heroin, and spout off racial slurs.  

Film:  The Godfather films, The Departed, Sergio Leone’s westerns, and Quentin Tarantino’s films.  Scalped is a gangster movie without being a gangster movie, a western that isn’t quite a western.   

Books: The works of Sherman Alexie and Mario Puzo seem to have inspired this work, in very different ways.  It’s also tempting to suspect that the semi-protagonist Dashiell Bad Horse may have been named after Dashiell Hammett.  The works are also rife with a number of other literary allusions, along with true stories.  Other good works to check out would be The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III, and any of the many books on Leonard Peltier.  

 

Final Note

The only two reasons that I can think of not to read Scalped is that a) it might be darker than what you are looking for, and b) it will spoil you.  It’s accessible, it’s powerful, and it’s compelling.  I will say it again: you will never read anything else quite like it.  

 

Wildcat

(This story is old.  I am revisiting it for the first time in years.)

You have known your father is a liar since you were a little girl.  Among his lies is the claim that he built the house you live in.  If he really built it then he would know about the passage that runs up and down the middle of the house with the ladder from basement to attic, the one you use to watch him when he goes to the room he calls his office and meets with the strangers, the ones who ride in on their fierce horses with their tobacco spit and tarnished guns and their demands and their money.

The house is in the desert, surrounded by nothing.  A road leads into the south and on the western horizon the mountains rise up and tear into the sky with jagged jaws, looking as if they’re within walking distance but your father has always warned you not to try to walk to the mountains and this is something you know he does not lie about.  To the north are canyons, mazes one could get lost in until dead.  They were cut by rivers, thousands of years ago. Nothing runs through them now but streams and echoes.  The town is to the south, out of sight except for on the clearest of days.  This area is mostly desert, but with enough grass to sustain the livestock.  Hot days and cold nights and always dry.

Read the rest of this entry »

New Yorkers (A Story Looking to be Criticized)

(Author’s Note: This story has been posted to shared, criticized, and ready by strangers.  Feel free to email me at dfredericklovett@gmail.com or leave comments below with critiques, or respond in the original reddit thread that I posted it to, if that’s how you found it.)

Our setting is New York City, naturally, as there is nowhere else it could be without alienating the target audience.  Everyone knows New York, either because they are proud and lucky enough to live there (such as the majority of this story’s target audience), or perhaps they have visited friends there several times, or they have never actually entered the city but they are familiar with it and its characteristics and they can certainly understand a story that is set there as it will follow certain unalienable American truths, and regardless of all that, New York feels familiar to every American, in the way that you feel you know celebrities because you know the names and races of their children and their likes and dislikes and their hairstyles and swimsuits and every time you go to the grocery store, there they are, over the candy bars and gum, and then sometimes they come home with you and you learn a little more about them after putting away the groceries, sitting at the table, eyes glazing over as you skate across the gloss, absorbing their triumphs and infidelities. Read the rest of this entry »

Test post. Do not read.

This is a test.

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