I remember when that Grant Morrison/JG Jones Final Crisis series started coming out from DC; and how, especially at the beginning, it was this wall of things happening with characters you barely remembered. It was, in the spirit of most Crises, like taking one of those big DC Encyclopedias and throwing it through a jet engine just to see the brightly colored mist flush out the other side. And though my affection for that book has probably dimmed, it’s still something that, when brought up in casual conversation, give me a sudden inexplicable urge to defend it--even if by this point, I’ve lost all connection to the place the origin of that urge. It’s the phantom limb syndrome, for things you used to like.
I bring it up because Paul Jon Milne is someone working at an even faster speed, with an even more complicatedly dextrous jet engine than Morrison and Jones were in those days. He’s started this beautiful color series called Grave Horticulture: in which, through a tornado of iridescent regressions, progressions, and digressions, Milne sets out to tell the story of a phantasmic group of ghouls tasked with that age old problem of a world under cosmographic threat.
Milne can handle the pace of this kind of storytelling because he has those old school character designer chops that allow you to shorthand visually who someone is, what they stand for, and what their abilities might be--a talent that has faded out of the superhero genre under the weight of the contemporary predilection for toiling with childhood fanfiction in the big corporate IP graveyards. Milne is an artist who can effortlessly land a fiery car engine on the neck of a musclebound maniac and you immediately understand what that’s all about. And unlike most writers today, he can give an origin story for a character in two pages or less.
The result is a tome of addled freaks, violence poets, and blood vegans who all feel coherent within a swamp of UK housing and geographic dilapidation. Names like the “Road Ghoul”, “Sherbert Dave”, and “Daniel Furnace” fire by with a force of sincerity and melodrama that keeps the book from falling into yet another starch hipster superhero parody. Which isn’t to say there aren’t laughs to be had in Grave Horticulture; but to go back to the Final Crisis comparison, they are more akin to the kind when Tawny Tiger appears with that jetpack; it’s absurd, you know it’s absurd, and yet you still feel grounded enough to rush headlong into the experience.
Where Milne excels is in his depiction of a kind of interlocating bramble of ink and tone splayed out in the service of a muscular erotic fetisishism that sits posted beneath hand-lettered uniquely regional utterances. There’s something uniquely hot daddy to the fetish bar lurking in the power of these drawings that when combined with the Scottish phraseology witch their way into a mesmerizing vision of punk agrarianism that feels like the next logical step UK comics should take. It’s something that’s imbued with that energy I got reading the old Deadline Shaky Kane stuff that got put out last year by Breakdown Press. Wreckage, in the most empowering sense.
This sense of community in Grave Horticulture is beneath the heroes saving the world shit, because while the work keeps you churning through the pages with nonstop action and psychedelia, the focus of these books is really pissing about in low rent housing with weirdo friends; it's about growing a weird garden made out of dead supernaturals with the help of a localized system of bartering; it's about estranged fathers failing a connection with their kids they think they care about; it’s about putting up with those fathers when they want to get drunk and annoying in the allotment you all share. It’s about living in a world of degraded government institutions, in spite of those institutions.
Maybe that’s what separates Milne out from contemporaries in the alt-superhero genre: you come for the muscley fetish costumed body horror, but you stay for the anarchic agrarian sense of passion for community?