The other comic book I was keen to pick up at Bristol was #1 of the debut series written by Jonathan Ross. Non UK readers may be scratching their heads and asking, “who?” Well, Mr. Ross is well known here a movie critic, but to you he is probably better known as the husband of Jane Goldman, the Hugo-winning scriptwriter for Stardust, and for the recent blockbuster, Kick-Ass.
Ross’s interest in comics has been well known for years. He once co-owned a London comics shop, and his collection is legendary, but as far as I know this is his first serious foray into fiction. Despite his love of superheroes, Turf is not a caped crimefighter story. It is set in New York in 1929 during the Prohibition era. The city is run by criminal gangs who pay off the corrupt mayor and police chief. Society columnist Susie dreams of being able to write hard-hitting articles that will expose the corruption, but has little hope of any success. Even her loyal photographer, Dale, appears to only tag along for the free “lemonade” he gets at high society parties.
As the story opens, a new family has just come onto the scene. They are rich nobility, recently emigrated from Romania. They don’t appear to be terribly interested in the alcohol racket, but they do have a serious interest in smuggling their favorite drink: blood.
That by itself would make a fine comic. Gangsters v Vampires in Prohibition era New York is a lovely idea. But Ross is not the sort of man to go for a simple, safe idea. He has big ideas and plenty of ambition. And that is probably why there is a single page devoted to a dog fight taking place 12 miles above the surface of the Earth, leading to a large object crashing into the city.
Can he make it work? On the basis of issue #1 I think he can. As Ross confessed in an interview on Geek Syndicate, the script for Turf #1 is a bit wordy (though nowhere near Don McGregor class), but there is a fair amount of infodumping to be done so that’s not surprising. Aside from that it works very well. I’m particularly pleased to see that Ross appears to have good guys and bad guys in both the gangster and vampire communities. That promises interesting developments in issues to come.
The art is by Tommy Lee Edwards who has an impressive track record in comics and doing style guides for high profile movies. His work reminded me a lot of Howard Chaykin and it did not surprise me to find interviews online in which Edwards cites Chaykin as a major influence. The panels are all very dark and heavy on the brown, almost as if Edwards has deliberately gone for a sepia tone look. It seems to suit the subject matter rather well.
Given his high public profile, I don’t think Ross need worry about the book being a flop. Based on #1, however, he may well have to worry about it being a success.