Sometimes people stop me in the street and ask me
to stop following them what the best monthly periodical genre comic currently on the stands is. And I tell them, all these people who I’m pretending constantly stop me in the street and ask that question, that the best monthly periodical genre comic currently on the stands is STRAY BULLETS. I haven’t said that before on here because, honestly, I didn’t think it needed saying. It seems I thought wrong. So no blame, no shame and let’s don our knuckle dusters, knuckle down and rectify this shabby state of affairs right damn now. Also, I tell you how to get CHEAP COMICS!!! Yeah, thought you’d like that.
What is STRAY BULLETS? I’m glad you asked. STRAY BULLETS is in all likelihood all the things you say you want in a comic and a few more things chucked in for good luck. It’s a long form story told in done-in-one chunks; the dialogue’s to die for, being smoothly natural and never, not ever, no, not once, nope, degenerating into tic driven idiocy; the pacing is aces and while it’s got sex, violence, profanity and perversion by the pound it’s also got characters, intelligence, humour and heart to spare. STRAY BULLETS might hide behind Crime but it’s neither desiccated homage nor a canter through the clichés reliant on violence for impact. Superficially STRAY BULLETS is a crime book but like all the best crime fiction it’s really all about life. I never said I was above stating the obvious. STRAY BULLETS is set in a world where everyone pretends they live in a civilised society but they are all just a moment’s inattention or single surrender to temptation away from finding out just how many teeth the world still has. Sometimes teh chracters find out they have the sharpest teeth of all. STRAY BULLETS is about many things but mostly it's about surviving. Or not surviving.
Now you may say that away from STRAY BULLETS Lapham’s a mixed bag. Me, I thought YOUNG LIARS was a modern classic, his strange take on Batman (City of Crime) was pretty frosty large plant seeds and SPARTA U.S.A. was messed up in the right way but sunk by the art (who can ever forget High Blood Pressure Colin Farrell?). There’s others but it’s variable stuff. Which is fine; which is how that stuff goes. But when Lapham’s on STRAY BULLETS he’s up there with los Bros Hernandez, with Clowes, with Speed McNeil. When David Lapham's on STRAY BULLETS he is on. Bang a gong.
STRAY BULLETS is in all likelihood all the things you say you want in a comic and a few more things chucked in for good luck. But you aren’t buying it. What’s all that about?
Right, my sleeves are rolled up so let’s get stuck straight in. Firstly, roll your jellied orbs of sight over this ridiculous nonsense:
March 2014: STRAY BULLETS #41 – 8,297 March 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #1 – 14,208 April 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #2 – 9,147 May 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #3 – 7,935 June 2014: STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS #4– 7,092
Those figures are taken from Chris Rice’s Indie Month-to-Month Sales June 2014 column which lurks on Heidi McDonald’s The Beat. With admirable brevity and mordant understatement Chris “Numbers Are My Wonders” Rice comments only, “Should be selling better.”
He’s not wrong.
Okay, sure, STRAY BULLETS #41 was the final issue of a storyline left dangling since the cessation in 2005 of the regular publication of STRAY BULLETS; mass turnouts weren’t ever really on the cards. Staggeringly, in 2005 the world of comics was so preposterous that David Lapham couldn’t actually afford to publish his Eisner winning (not that that matters, but still) and thoroughly EXCELLENT! comic. Beyond staggeringly this nonsensical state of affairs persisted for nine years until Image Comics rescued David Lapham’s EXCELLENT! series. An understandable state of affairs then that such a long delayed comic should shift so few ‘units’ (ack!). Turning that frown upside down though; that’s a remarkable number of units for a nine years delayed comic to move. Always a silver lining, that’s me. Anyway this is collected in STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION which we’ll get to shortly but STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS is the new stuff and y'all ain't picking it up.
I like to try before I buy and purchases cost money and money is not something I am fat with, you might say. Hush, for this is a strange new world where procurement does not always require payment in full. All the sexy souls riding The Future bareback like the Pope intended can just get right on the STRAY BULLETS bandwagon right here and right now at the slightest possible cost. See, the first issue of the original 1995 series is available for just $.99 and just $1.99 for each issue thereafter at just the touching of a screen or two. Being all old and not really into the whole riding my jetpack to the mall thing I won’t risk embarrassment by going into any further detail but, yes, Digital users curious about STRAY BULLETS can have a virtual bunch of them in two shakes of a Vic20. Okay, there’s the hidden cost of actually being able to afford one of those tablets or pads or gadgets; which might explain why you haven’t any money left to purchase comics on the shinily enticing thing. But I just showed you a way round it that doesn’t involve piracy (not a fan, sorry). No worries, my pleasure. While I do want you to read STRAY BULLETS I do draw the line at discretely placing it on your devices without your consent like some shower of tax dodging rock star ****s in servitude to some dark Corporate Beast. Politeness is the first casualty of synergy it seems.
STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics $59.99 STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
If I can just prise the offended fingers of noted paper based merchant and mini brew swigger Brian “Two Shops Are Better Than One!” Hibbs from around my throat I’ll swiftly make amends by shilling the physical things. Because what of those resistant to the tug of the Future? What of those medieval souls who through habit or penury remain chained to the physical world? Oh, shred not thy garments and untear thy hair for those wayward dregs also have the ability to start at the beginning; thanks to STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION. This is not a low cost entry point; it is in fact $59.99. But for that money you do get 41 issues of consistently EXCELLENT! comics. Yes, that is a lot of greenbacks, a lot of hours at the coal face, a lot of time staring at a screen while your arteries quietly harden, but it is worth every ass busting cent in terms of comics. Also, you’ll get STRAY BULLETS #21. You don’t know this yet but STRAY BULLETS #21 is one of the finest single issues ever made. If I was stranded on a desert island I’d die within three days of exposure. But if before that happened I was allowed to take two comics one would be OMAC #1 by Jack Kirby and the other would be STRAY BULLETS #21. That’s because they are my idea of perfect single issue genre comics and together the two of them would provide enough entertainment for the three days I had left to live.
STRAY BULLETS #21 is just great comics as Lapham smoothly fillets the heterosexual male psyche with the scalpel of satire without once faltering in his deadpan delivery. All those lazy boner scenarios which flit across the inside of the bored suburban male’s skull are drily depicted in all their banal hilarity. In the character of Benny David Lapham wrought a comic creation the equal of Jack Kirby’s OMAC. For just as OMAC was the ultimate man for the world which was coming!!! Benny is the ultimate man for the world that’s already here. (Fucking Benny. You fucking shambles, Benny.) And then there’s a whole bunch of comics around that little sweetie during the course of which David Lapham shows us many things, all of which come under the umbrella heading of Comics: How They Should Be Done. Reading STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION it becomes apparent that it is possible to create a series with a strong sense of time and place without wallowing in received clichés; it is possible to create characters at once grotesquely monstrous but also unsettlingly human and relatable; it is possible for the ridiculous to sit beside the realistic without duelling elbows; it is possible to take for granted art displaying the influences of Mazzucchelli, Munoz and Meskin; it is possible to get things right right from the start and to keep right on getting them right. STRAY BULLETS UBER ALLES EDITION might look pricey but it’s a steal for what it is, because it is EXCELLENT! multiplied by 41!
Of course it’s cheaper just to hop on board the new series so let’s see how that’s shaping up! (SPOILER: It’s EXCELLENT! You didn’t know I could be this positive for so long did you? Ack! I think something just popped inside my head.)
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1 Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics, $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
But c’mon! Where were you all with this one? STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #1 was a real Double Deckers (“Get on board! Get on board!”) moment but it seems most of you forgot to set your alarm and missed the bus. Because, according to those figures at The Beat in June 2014 STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS was the 234th best-selling comic book to North American retailers. 234th. Two hundred and thirty fourth. True, nestled just beneath it in 235th place was Parker & Shaner’s bubbly respray of FLASH GORDON, so it’s in good company down there. But it remains a fact that STRAY BULLETS: THE KILLERS is being outsold by 233 other comics, many of which, horrifically, have Mark Millar involved. While you don’t need any prior knowledge of STRAY BULLETS if you do have prior knowledge of the series then it’s a richer experience but then that’s what knowledge does; it makes experiences richer. All you need to enjoy this comic is to read it. But to do that you have to buy it. If you do you'll find that this one’s about Dads and how men who become Dads don’t stop being men. When people say it’s a full time job being a Dad they mean it’s a full time job not backsliding into being an asshole. Thematically this issue is akin to that episode of East Bound And Down where Kenny took everyone to the water park. It’s EXCELLENT!
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #2 Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics, $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
Well, that was upsetting. But not in a cheap way. It's EXCELLENT!
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #3 Written & Drawn by David Lapham El Capitan/Image Comics, $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
This one’s like David Lynch trying to do one of those John Hughes movie things people who aren't me like. One of those full of loveable scamps and risky japes. If you worked in Television and needed everything reducing to a formula you could kind of boil this one down to: Hi-jinks ensue when Laura Palmer babysits for Bobby Peru! It’s all kind of light and frothy except for all the darkness and psychological pain which keep bursting into the dollhouse setting like a mental elephant at full pelt. It’s EXCELLENT!
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #4 by David Lapham El Capitan/Image $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
Wherein David Lapham focuses in on the burgeoning romance of his young leads without once making me do a bit of sick in my mouth. Maybe that’s because Lapham’s such a good storyteller that he can communicate that early adult feeling of being so trapped between the life you have, the life you want and the life everyone else wants for you that you can feel your brain physically flex. And then you go and do a load of dumb shit and get to live with it. Forever. Jellybeans for everyone! Or maybe it’s just that David Lapham knows just when to throw in a panel of monkey cuddlies dangling from a beach hut roof. Either way in this issue I watched a couple of kids behave as foolishly and as purely as any real hormonal basket cases and I liked them even more by the end. It's EXCELLENT!
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #5 by David Lapham El Capitan/Image $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
This is one of the regular breather issues which have peppered the series since it started. One of the ones some folk don’t cotton to overmuch. One of the issues where Lapham interrupts the regular narrative to catch up with the ridiculously violent, bombastically nonsensical and wholly imaginary adventures of Amy Racecar. It’ s possible these issues act as the very dreamlife of the series itself with all the key themes and motifs allowed to frolic across the pages without the constraints of logic the preceding issues worked within. I’m probably the wrong man to ask about that kind of stuff as I’m busy laughing my ruby red ass off at it all. Can a mass murdering and quite fetchingly befreckled fugitive from justice who has sworn off killing find love with a suicidal and blind quadruple amputee; yea, though all the guns of the world be turned against them? Buckle up and find out. Makes Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers look like Downton Abbey, and I like Natural Born Killers. STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #5; the louder you scream the faster it goes! It’s EXCELLENT!
STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #6 by David Lapham El Capitan/Image $3.50 (2014) STRAY BULLETS created by David Lapham
It’s a bit late in the day but I should probably say that STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS is for mature readers. Sure, it’s for mature readers in the commonly accepted sense that it’s frequently rudey-roo and would make your vicar’s cheeks shine like a freshly slapped arse. However, it’s also for mature readers in that it can tease and hint at the contents of a locked room and let your mind fill in all the unspeakable details only to wrongfoot you at the end with an ending which admits that sometimes reality is horrible enough. Basically (and it’s unusual for genre comics this) STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS is for mature readers in the sense that it treats you like a fucking grown-up. It’s EXCELLENT!
So, there you go, I’ve told you all about STRAY BULLETS (and STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS) while leaving you no wiser. Some might argue that that’s pretty thoroughly bloody useless but, what; you want me to spoil everything for you? That isn’t going to happen. All you need to take away from this is that I think STRAY BULLETS (and STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS) is EXCELLENT!
Or to put it to you a little more pithily:
David Lapham’s STRAY BULLETS is – COMICS!!!