Monday, March 2, 2009

Yesterday's Tomorrows

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded. This time, a review of Yesterday's Tomorrows (Knockabout, 2007).

Rian Hughes has long been absent from the field of comics, working instead in design and commercial illustration. When he was active in the late '80s through 1996 or so, he was creating some genuinely gorgeous work. This is a wonderful hardcover collection which reminds me of an old science textbook that reprints a good chunk of his comics, along with a heady set of sketchbook illustrations and cover art.

The two Grant Morrison collaborations, Dare (first serialized in Revolver and Crisis) and Really and Truly (from 2000 AD) are probably the best known pieces. They're both showing their age as stories, and certainly won't be remembered as being among Morrison's best works, but they look gorgeous. I could spend all day studying the backgrounds and details of Dan Dare's tragic, impoverished future, and its streets of empty future-buildings. The Science Service, written by John Freeman, is a very strange little one-off that gives Hughes lots of room to design his fun little retro-future, but the story left me a little cold, as though it was waiting for a good deal more meat and background before letting readers embrace it.

Standing head and shoulders above the rest, oddly enough, is Tom DeHaven's adaptation of the Raymond Chandler short story "Goldfish," in which Philip Marlowe needs to visit the Pacific Northwest to find a fellow who might know about some stolen pearls before a couple with a line in scalding bare feet with hot irons gets to him first. Now, it's certainly true that the three Chandler novels I've tried are not nearly enough, but I still had to wonder where this story had been all my life, because it's terrific. Hughes may seem an odd choice to illustrate something so firmly set in pre-war, small town America, when he took so much inspiration from
atom-age zap gun iconography, but he really nails this story, which is beautifully paced and comes as close to a definitive visual treatment for Philip Marlowe as I've ever seen.

Some of the writing lets Hughes down just a little bit, and some of his best comics are not included in this collection - next month's Reprint This! will have a note or two about that point - but in all, it's a very entertaining book full of beautiful art. The price might seem a little high, but the production is probably good enough to warrant it, so I give this a solid recommendation.


Unknown said...

I can't tell you how much the Dan Dare story depressed me. That one is heartbreaking. And Hughes art makes it really iconic. I'll put this one on my to-buy list.

John Freeman said...

Ouch! Sorry you didn't like the Science Service -- but it was the first full-length comic I ever wrote, way back in the 1980s. I guess it shows, especially compared with the polished work of Mr Morrison.

Rian did a fab job on the art -- it would be great to re-visit the characters.

G.G. said...

The Dan Dare story really is a downer, especially when government forces start moving against our heroes and they just feel so small and ineffectual.

John, your story was far from a failure, but I think with some more pages, I could have understood the world and the characters a little better. I remember my good buddy, retailer Devlin Thompson of Bizarro Wuxtry, recommending it back when I only had pennies for 2000 AD. True I wasn't wowed by it, but I'm glad I read it. Your script's aged better than Really & Truly has, anyway!