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The end of dark nights

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Ed Power, Irish Times, 6 May 2000

The end of dark nightsEdit

Sanusi-Tripped-Out-Metropol

Tripped Out Metropolis by Ahmed Sanusi

Comic-book author Garth Ennis is a sick, sick little puppy. Lord knows what sort of thoughts flit through his head late at night, but if the parade of perversities populating the multi-million selling graphic novel saga Preacher is anything to go by, well... it's safe to assume its creator doesn't dream of seaside jaunts or cuddly toys. Not unless bunny wabbits have taken to devouring live babies recently.

Preacher - and there really is no other way to put this - is utterly vile, absolutely stomach-churning. Oh, and frequently brilliant. It chronicles the adventures of one Jessie Custer, a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking, hard-liquor-swigging man o' the cloth looking for God. Not in any run-of-the-mill, spiritual sense, you understand. No, Custer is looking for God. To kick His sorry butt. The Big Kahuna has done a bunk - and heaven is going to em, Hell in his absence. Twisted, depraved, frequently nausea-inducing... Oh you have no idea. And we care why, exactly? Because Ennis, arguably the hottest ticket in the comic business at the minute, comes from Belfast. He is Irish. He writes comics. That sell by the 747-load. This shouldn't be.

Despite consuming more comic-books per head than the rest of Europe, Ireland has - Ennis and long-time collaborator Steve Dillon aside - failed to produce a single writer or artist of international renown. And we're not just talking big league - Batman, Judge Dredd and chums - here.

Irish talent is conspicuously absent from Europe's huge underground scene: the vast self-publishing movement embracing both conventional story-telling and wilfully obtuse experimentalism. Zilch. Nada. Barely a brass farthing's worth of invention. But the winds of change blow strong. And how. The domestic comic industry is in the throes of a creative hubbub few would have predicted even a year ago.

Consider the svelte, soap-opera stylings of Murra MacRory's Zero or the riotous sci-fi excesses displayed by Ahmed Sanusi's Tripped Out Metropolis. We're some distance from spawning a new Garth Ennis but as mainstream players like Britain's Comic X fix their scopes on our burgeoning scene, a major breakthrough may be imminent.

Top of the heap stands Zero, a crisp symbiosis of Buffy-esque teen angst and mainstream superhero melodrama centred on adolescent lovers Josh and Peregrin, which has cultivated a hundreds-strong Dublin fan-base. Writer/artist Murra MacRory blames Ireland's oft-trumpeted fixation with its "adult" artistic heritage - plain old literary snobbery by any other name - for the absence of an indigenous professional comic industry.

"In countries such as France, Italy and Japan, where comics are rightfully considered as a creative medium akin to movies or animation, with its own language, their industry thrives and everyone reads them," he explains.

"There is a stigma attached to comics as being `kids stuff' and so people are reluctant to look at them after a certain age. That, in turn, affects the market, as there doesn't appear to be a large enough market for a major publisher to develop an interest in publishing comics. Meanwhile, those of us that decide to self-publish can only really afford to do it by photocopying our work and selling it cheap, so I suppose a vicious circle has been established."

MacRory's reticence to be eulogised as the brightest hope of an emergent domestic movement is arguably reflected in Zero's homogeneity. No Celtic-tinged ballyhoo this. Tripped Out Metropolis, the second home-grown title of note, is, by contrast, tarted with culture-specific flavours, reflecting the experiences of its author, 22-year-old Nigerian immigrant Ahmed Sanusi. Strewn with semi-autobiographical references, Tripped Out reads as a loquacious study of xenophobia, alienation and culture-shock. The series charts the exploits of brothers Moe and Zeek, abducted by extra-terrestrials and whisked off to a surreal cityscape redolent of Kafka or Fritz Lang at their most ebullient.

On the heels of Sinju, a five-part Oriental-tinged space epic put out by Sanusi last year, Tripped Out has scored highly with Dublin's graphic novel cognoscenti.

"People have reacted really well. I've already sold out my first run. It proves that fans are willing to take at face value any comic that is well-presented - and that the Irish audience is very literate and is willing to look beyond stereotypical superhero stuff."

With rumours rife that a big screen adaptation of Preacher is about to go into production (Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz and Samuel L. Jackson are tipped to head the cast), the domestic scene lingers on the brink of genuine mainstream success, he claims.

"There is a really vibrant scene in Dublin at the moment. Everyone knows that something big is going to come out of it, that one title will be picked up by a big international distributor and make the big time. And we're all vying to be that one," adds Sanusi.

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