Blistering action grounded in a historical setting that’s under explored in comics and suddenly feels more timely than ever: the Cold War geopolitics of 1971.
The new Mayday series from writer/letterer/DJ Alex de Campi and artist/visual drug dealer Tony Parker is an exciting and original comic set in the Cold War conflict centered between the US and USSR. Its themes are on the tip of everyone’s tongue once again.
De Campi has described the series as being her “anti-James Bond”, a comic that asks readers how we feel about our spy protagonist when he’s Soviet, not British, when he wears a dingey T-shirt and isn’t a Ken-doll movie star. This is a question that goes largely unanswered in popular espionage stories. How often do we even see Russian protagonists?
De Campi is a serious researcher, a student of the era’s history, the Eastern Bloc and a world traveler herself. This is the experience she brings to this series along with her trademarked levels of earned, intelligent brutality and dark humor.
Between her sharp writing and Tony Parker’s art, Mayday’s pacing is meticulous and riveting no matter how many or how few words are in the frame. You can hear the phone off the hook when they want you to and smell the gasoline.
Parker knows his way around an action sequence. His work is detailed, with realistic anatomy and naturalistic compositions. His style reminds me of the British artists on the legendary 2000AD comics, like Judge Dredd era Brian Bolland. His characters’ faces are individualized, realistically lined and creased and always in motion.
And when the story doesn’t call for realism at all because someone is having an acid-fuelled freak-out?
Well, I’m a lifelong connoisseur of psychedelic art (Yellow Submarine is a perfectly appropriate movie for all ages, I’ll have you know) and I’m a pretty tough critic to please when it comes to contemporary comics artists trying their hand at psychedelia. So many attempts these days go for computer derived effects over aesthetics. I.e. lots of new psychedelic art just isn’t very attractive– compare the new Dr. Strange black light posters to the classic 70s ones with art by Gene Colan, Steve Ditko and Tom Palmer? Realism and computers aren’t necessarily your friends.
But Parker’s detailed and highly animated style looks fantastic when he sets it wild while drawing the comic’s key psychedelic sequences. It’s a skill he also used to great effect when drawing his recent This Damned Band series with writer Paul Cornell. Bodies are distorted, polarities reversed, color and lines swirl into a vortex and Blond’s colors really get a chance to pulse with psychedelic energy.
Parker has also clearly been looking at the right concert posters and album art as reference points. Organic forms derived from Art Nouveau (beloved by hippie era artists) smack up against Soviet Constructivist geometric motifs in a major splash page for the ages.
Mayday uses visual representations of music as a form of heightened reality, not just in the acid freakout but in multiple scenes. Careful letters work the song names into the page. The result is hearing and seeing the song on the page in everything from the far-out lettering to the backgrounds.
The series also uses music as a play-along soundtrack (get it on Spotify!) that cements the story in time. This is not an idealized look back at the music that was popular in 1971 filtered through the eyes of a modern critic who knows what’s “good,” only playing classics that stand the test of time. Where’s the realism in that?! De Campi’s playlists feature the popular music of the period that’s aged poorly too. Because they can’t all be Alice Cooper classics, can they?…. To quote issue 1’s back matter “Kieron Gillen includes music because he loves you, I include music because fuck you”.
Often when art is set in a specific historic era the artist will depend on visual signifiers of the times that call attention to themselves like they were just placed there to tell you the year, yet the clothes and settings will be all wrong– they just haven’t done their homework. You can’t draw a lava lamp and call it a day. The historical setting here feels lived in and researched. This creative team has done that research right down to the clothes the architecture and especially the Kremlin.
There are other details of importance on the pages, like the acknowledgment of brutality directed at bystanders. These often overlooked moments are important to the humanity of the story– like a child standing off-center in the middle of a road after a trucking accident. His or her parent’s dismissed by the CIA agents as “Mexicans” and not worth mentioning. The child is just left there alone on the road as the action passes by.
Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review