It was about midway through CAIRO, Vertigo’s latest original graphic novel, that I had the moment of realization that this was God Save The Queen, another recent Vertigo OGN that I pretty much hated, only done "right". Like God Save The Queen, this book was a magical realist story that owes a lot to Neil Gaiman, and also like God Save The Queen, it’s a story that’s almost deceptively simple (Thinking back on it after finishing it, I started realizing how thin some of the character threads really were; during reading, however, the execution was charming enough that I didn’t really notice); unlike God Save The Queen, though, Cairo has enough of its own identity and sense of humor to be an enjoyable, if light, read – Something that isn’t going to make anyone suddenly realize that the comic medium is full of opportunities and wonder, perhaps, but certainly more enjoyable than the latest hardcover collection of New Avengers or something similarly priced.
(The price point is worth mentioning, briefly; I got this book in the mail from DC to review, and so wasn’t really aware of how much it cost, but Tom Spurgeon noted today that it’s pretty light for a $25 book - That’s kind of true, and I would’ve guessed it to have been around $20 considering the small size and black and white pages, but I guess DC’s got to make it profitable somehow.)
I think this is G. Willow Wilson’s first comic – although her later Outsiders one-shot saw print first – and it’s pretty successful for what it is. You can definitely guess influences out of it (Gaiman, as I said before, is the most obvious one, but I think there’s some Milligan whimsy in there as well), but she has a good line in dialogue and there’re some nice scene transitions and moments of pacing that show that she’s familiar with the form and avoiding the traditional newbie pitfalls. The character work is fairly basic – there’s a lot of characters verbalizing their emotions and arcs to signpost it for you - but the lightness of tone carries you through the whole thing quickly and easily enough, and the shorthand works; the reunion at the end of the book isn’t really explained or earned, but gave me the warm fuzzy feeling nonetheless. But then again, maybe I’m just a sap.
Artwise, MK Perker’s work really, really reminds me of a fairly unfamiliar name – Jim McCarthy, Brendan’s brother (? I think?), who drew for 2000AD in the ‘90s. It has a similar off-kilter sloppiness that nonetheless helps his characters act, giving you this work that’s kind-of-but-not-really ugly, but definitely effective, despite itself. That it’s black and white hurts it, in a way; a good colorist could’ve added a lot to the atmosphere and filled in some gaps. Mind you, it’s a Vertigo book, so there’s always the possibility that it would’ve ended up all brown and dull.
Overall, it’s very much a book that’ll work for old-school Vertigo fans – It reads like a shortened version of a mini that could’ve been published by the company in the mid-90s, when they pushed out new books a couple of times a month – which isn’t as much of a complaint as it may sound; whether there’s much of an audience for a solidly Good, if not great, graphic novel with all new characters being put out fairly quietly (unless I’ve missed all the hype) is another question, but I enjoyed it.