Scars and Bars

Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2007
By: Steve Saville

Cover of Scars and Bars Creator(s): William Rees and Jason Moser
Publishers: Heavy Proton
From: USA
Price: US$ 19.95.

The basic concept behind this graphic novel is not in itself unique, it is a look at some of the ‘thin lines’ that exist in our modern world. The narrow line for example that pro boxing appears to tread between being a ‘legit’ sport and a front for criminal activities and the ‘fine line’ that exists between being a law enforcer and being nothing more than a vigilante thug. “Scars and Bars” scratches away at these blurred positions and comes up with a dark and sombre portrayal of life in this ‘grey’ world. It is, as the creators describe it, “a topical crime- comic.”

Set in a post 9/11 New York this 160+ page epic follows two individuals who have found themselves on different sides of the law but whose lives are strangely connected and in many respects very similar. It does make us question our concept of law and order and justice. Yes it is a bleak read. Yes it does plunge into a sordid and amoral side of modern urban life and yes it is fairly unrelenting but the points made are valid and need to be considered by a society that is becoming increasingly violent.

Essentially it deals with two characters. Majak is a corrections officer striving to join the NYPD. His reasons for doing so seem to be more to do with an urge to satisfy a vigilante blood lust than to serve the community. The cold hard portrayal of this individual is chilling and the fact that the majority of pages in this volume make heavy use of black and shadow only enhances this feeling of unease in the reader. The way he converses via slogans just emphasises the fact that he is a cold and calculating individual. His violent use of the baton therefore comes as no surprise top us. Charming is not an adjective that springs to mind when describing Majak, quite the opposite in fact.

The second major character is disgraced boxer Kid Madrid and we follow his experiences in the days directly after his release from jail. The difficulties he has in moving back into the community are sobering to say the least.

The narrative has non–fiction, historical elements woven into the storyline and this certainly gives the whole comic a realistic feel. This is important because the electronically generated artwork does tend to alienate the reader. Strangely enough I found it hard to empathise with any of the characters because of the way they were visually presented. The computer generated images, whilst stylish, lacked personality. Luckily then the story is extremely well written and allowed me to ‘get over’ this obstacle and engage with the story via the narrative. In places the style is almost poetic. For example the opening lines;

It’s like a nightmare•
Spiky, silent, hot•

The opening is set in jail and effectively lays the scene for a tale of ‘plans gone wrong.’ Much of this graphic novel goes on to investigate the consequences of these ‘unwise’ decisions. The writing is a mix of this powerful poetic reflective style and equally powerful direct speech.

The way the creators manage the movement between two times frames is worthy of comment. All too often in comics this becomes a clumsy and confusing technique, it takes genuine skill to mange it successfully and in this comic we have an excellent example of that skill.

Also worthy of note is the portrayal of boxing, in and out of the ring. This graphic novel has a real ‘Raging Bull’ feel about it in places, and that is a high compliment.

It is a stylishly presented volume, carefully planned, very well structured and executed with a fine eye for layout design. The way we are guided through the New York setting via street map location frames at the beginning of each chapter is just one of the interesting visual features employed in “Scars and Bars.”

At twenty bucks this is an expensive comic but if the seedy underbelly of New York is a world you want to explore then spending twenty bucks on “Scars and Bars” is at least a safe way of doing just that.

In a Word: Punchy.

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