It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for. Having won the 2000 AD writing competition at Thought Bubble in 2015, Irish writer Rory McConville has kept a low profile, but certainly not for want of talent.
McConville is – hands down – one of the best, most inventive writers to emerge from 2000 AD in the last five years!
Since joining the Prog’s regular talent pool, McConville’s genius for crazed concepts – edible education, reality-altering parental controls, wearable tech that ticks off the minutes until the owner’s demise – has found fertile ground in strips including Tharg’s Future Shocks, Judge Dredd, Devlin Waugh and Tales from the Black Museum. Dense, clever and frequently hilarious, McConville’s contributions to the Prog remain criminally undervalued.
Surprisingly, the writer takes a different path with this, his first creator-owned comic, setting aside his brilliance for left-field sci-fi in favour of something quieter but no less assured.
Write It In Blood #1 (of 4) is a simmering neo-noir co-created by artist Joe Palmer. (Another obscure talent who won a Thought Bubble art competition in the same year as McConville; they went on to work together on the 2016 Tharg’s Future Shock entitled Lifosuction.)
Two aimless middle-aged thugs – Arthur and Cosmo Pryce – are finishing up one last job beneath the baking Texas sun. Next stop retirement! Cosmo is already daydreaming about what he’ll do next, while Arthur broods over private troubles. Neither sibling possesses any real idea about where their lives are heading, but you can already feel the spectre of tragedy ready to offer some suggestions.
Sure enough, as they head back to base with a hostage crimelord named Little Harkness stashed in the trunk, the Pryce boys run into an angry reminder of their sordid past. This revelation ends in blood and with the brothers now facing the high road to oblivion.
Set in a similar deadpan crime-verse to the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, Write It In Blood is a great example of how moving away from the five-page instalments of 2000 AD can prove a real test of talent. More pages means more ambitious stories. More panels allows for a wider vocabulary of transitions now you’re no longer focused solely on driving the story. How the writer chooses to spend all that lovely extra space often proves the true measure of a 2000 AD alumni.
A less controlled writer might have gone hog wild, blown all that space on flashy one-panel pages and double-page spreads covered in stacks of declarative captions. But McConville maintains his focus and zeroes in on a host of telling details. He spends a lot of that panel count on subtle moment-to-moment and aspect-to-aspect transitions, deepening the tense relationship between the two brothers, revealing twitches of anger, a sudden darkening of an expression that belies the savagery beneath a smile. It’s close, vivid, novelistic stuff and a testament to McConville’s maturity and skill.
Now about that art. Joe Palmer’s bold, stark cartooning feels somewhere in the region of Colin McNeil and Bruce Timm. Blocks of shadow lurk in every panel, threatening to drown the feckless protagonists the second they step out of the light. Palmer conveys their sense of aimlessness especially well in a later scene set in a benighted gas station, the surrounding darkness merging into a sea of unreachable stars.
Chris O’Halloran’s parched and dusty palette explodes into molten reds and yellows in moments of violence, the whole story abetted by the nimble lettering of Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou (the Eisner-winning editor of the much-needed PanelXPanel magazine and host of YouTube’s Strip Panel Naked). The creative team gel perfectly, deploying each surprise with patient assurance.
Write It In Blood #1 is as sparse as a Texas plain, yet crunchy as trail grit. It’s a mighty rewarding read that promises even greater surprises down the road. A must-read for lovers of smart crime comics and hopefully a breakout book for a creative team that deserve the widest possible recognition.
Write It In Blood #1 is available on Gumroad with a new issue available every week.
Rory McConville - @RoryMcConville2
Joe Palmer - joepalmerart.com
Chris O’Halleran – chrisohart.com
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou - @HassanOE