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Honour Among Punks

Sometimes I get the chance to review a book that is both from the small press and something of some historic value to the comic book world. During the early nineties, there really were two comic book industries: one was the industry we all know and saw, which featured D-cups and ultra-violence, and the other was the underground and Indie comics scene. Dozens of fantastic and Eisner winning titles came out of the small press during the early-to-mid nineties, and it seems likely to me that this culture wave inspired the late nineties/early zeroes comic book Renaissance, where the level of writing and craftsmanship for the mainstream of comic suddenly became higher, and artists AND writers both became what truly drove the books to sell. One book that came out of this previous creative boom was by one of comicdom’s most respected artists, that title being Guy Davis and Gary Reed’s Honour Among Punks.

For those who don’t know, Guy Davis is the artist from Oni Press’ The Marquis and books like Deadline. One of the better artists working in the medium today, his most mainstream success lies in his run on Sandman Mystery Theatre for Vertigo. Along with co-writer Reed, Davis has created a story that shows off his signature artistic style, delineating a world that is both familiar and wildly different from our own.

In an alternative London, the Victorian age is still going on, and the greatest form of rebellion against repressive social policy is the punk/goth counterculture that has sprung up around Baker Street. In a world where the difference between high society and the lower class has never been more vast, the punks say “screw it” and form their own culture, outside the norm and policed by no one but themselves. “Punk-Lords,” the cultural icons of the punk movement, hold sway over a violent society of spiky-haired youths and black eye-liner lovers, forming gangs and mobs.

One such punk-lord, Sharon “Harlequin” Ford has a past that has granted her a unique ability to solve the most twisted of cases: a skill she will need when people start dying in the punk side of town. Follow Sharon and her friends as she tries to uncover a serial murderer, while at the same time averting a gang war between the punks and the goths.

Honour Among Punks has been called a punk version of Sherlock Holmes, and while even the creators have acknowledged that this was part of their intent, this description doesn’t do the book justice. All the elements and references to Doyle’s great detective are there, and even the tone of the piece is Sherlockian, but Davis’ and Reed’s attention to character detail is what really drives the book. Each character in the piece is fleshed out, save for some of the smaller supporting roles. Information about the characters’ pasts is given when the story requires it, so the flow of the mystery is never interrupted, and the emergence of the full character happens gradually.

In the case of Harlequin, we discover more and more about the character spread out over two story-archs, usually through the efforts of her assistant/housekeeper, Susan. The reader is introduced to Harlequin in stages until her entire past and her motivations are made apparent. Susan’s characterization is different; the reader gets to see Susan evolve as she helps Sharon with the case. She changes drastically from the beginning of the collection to the end, and Reed and Davis are perfectly willing to let their characters grow over time, never rushing it.

The most interesting character they’ve created is Sam. To reveal too much about Sam would be to spoil one of the most well planned and subtle surprises I’ve ever seen sprung on a reader, but it’s enough to say that Sam is the most real character in the book. She seems to be Davis and Reed’s gritty and accurate view of some of the darker aspects of punk culture, and as we learn more about her, we see just how dangerous the world that Reed and Davis have created can be.

You could buy this book for the artwork alone and it would still be worth the $19.95 price tag, because not only do you get a couple hundred pages of Guy Davis artwork, you get the chance to watch his artwork evolve. Like most comic book artists, Davis has gone through some stylistic phases before settling on a style that is uniquely his own. The Punks collection collects two full story arcs and a few single-issue stories, all of the Baker Street series, so Davis drew the first story arc before he’d begun settling on a style.

Due to this, his artwork has a lighter, near-cartoonish quality that can be found in Archie and Mike Wieringo’s work. As the story progresses, the artwork begins to change, but slowly. As the middle of the first arc appears, more harsh lines are showing up, and more grit has been added. Shadows are darker and the inking has become more like crosshatching than ink filling. As we near the end of the first story arch, the artwork is clearly taking on Davis’s touch, meaning his style is fully emerging, becoming full-blown in the second arc.

Davis’s artwork is some of the most detailed artwork I’ve seen, but it’s the way he achieves that detail that makes his work special. Davis uses ink pen primarily, even for sketching, so his finished work has a feel of controlled chaos; there are lines everywhere, and what might have been a crosshatched mess turns out to be a perfectly shaded building or human form. At a glance, Davis’s work looks like loose sketching, but examined closer it’s highly polished work that accentuates the grit and grim world he has created.

This is an excellent collection and well worth the price iBooks is asking. I’ve never gotten to see the style of an artist evolve so much within one volume of work, and it’s a pleasure to see the process. The story is damn entertaining also; though I’m not sure how “punk” it may or may not be. Davis and Reed both have introductions to he story, and Davis has added an extensive sketch gallery in the back that includes characters studies and the like. It’s a collection that should be on your shelf because it’s an example of how comic books began to pull away from the mainstream in the 1990s to begin telling stories that mattered and that were so far out of the comic book norm.

Honour Among Punks : The Complete Baker Street Graphic Novel

Robert Sparling

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