Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pirate Club #1

Pirate Club #1, February 2004, Slave Labor Graphics
writer/illustrator: Derek Hunter
co-writer: Elias Pate

Pirates are in this year. Kids were dressing up as pirates on Halloween, and they’re now asking for pirate gear for Christmas. Of course, we have Disney’s The Pirates of the Caribbean to thank. Children across the country are brushing their teeth with little plastic Orlando Blooms and wearing the likeness of Johnny Depp in their collective butt. Disturbed is hardly the word for it.

Still, as a guy, I confess an inherent fascination with pirates, as well. (In fact, I’ve recently used this fascination to my professional advantage, a project that I will exploit through this forum next year, I reckon.) Something about their seaward fraternity appeals to the base nature of every man; the idea of hanging out with the guys, seeking adventure, and plundering women from port to port is perhaps the first historical record we have of the modern phenomenon known as a “dudes’ night out.” We mustn’t forget that pirates were also terrorists of the trade routes that kept the concept early global economy in peril, as well. But . . . they have parrots on their shoulders! They’re so cool!

So, you can imagine my excitement when I discovered Pirate Club #1 in the quarter bin at the comics shop today, where I picked up a veritable treasure chest of Christmas-themed comics soon to pop up in these postings. I figured Pirate Club, its cover depicting the makeshift adventures of a few undoubtedly geeky kids, would stir my inner child as only pirates and the holidays can. These characters obviously aren’t pirates, but the title itself creates an expectation that elicits thoughts of Calvin & Hobbes-like imaginary exploits – you know, youthful frivolity with ironically realistic consequences. I figured wrong.

Don’t misunderstand. This issue captures the characteristics of youth rather poignantly, as its lead characters, one a stickler for formality and the other a more go-with-the-flow kind of guy, blandly search and test potential new recruits for the Pirate Club. In fact, it’s the creators’ decision to dwell more in the characters’ mundane behaviors – we spend more time discussing the worthless politics of Pirate Club than we do pretending to be pirates – that makes the climatic moments in this issue fall flat. In those moments, the real world consequences I mentioned actually kick in, as the nerdiest of their recruits is tossed overboard and apparently drowns as the others argue who should rescue him. The scene’s punchline, and the last line of this issue, “Well, you’re gonna have to tell him mom,” makes me wonder what the writers intended. With such a relatable build-up, should we genuinely consider the weight of this kid’s possible demise? Or, like South Park’s Kenny, will he appear in the next installment to continue the pretend voyages of Pirate Club? I may never know.

This issue has many strengths, and Derek Hunter’s visuals is one of them. His characters’ expressions are minimalist but expressive, and his ink work is consistent, with thicker lines around his heroes to make them pop off of his fantastic background work. It’s a style I’m seeing more and more, especially in material like yesterday’s Nick Mag Presents or the Disney Channel Digest. In those cases, the line work benefits from pinpoint computer coloring, and if this issue’s interiors could reflect the multicolored style of its front and back covers, Hunter’s work would be comparable to those mainstream publications. Kids would really dig it.

Speaking of yesterday’s read, I had intended to cover the holiday issue of Heavy Metal magazine today, to contrast a youth-oriented anthology with a definitely adult one. Unfortunately, the time I’d need to read the issue escaped me this evening, so anticipate that review to usher in our Christmas-intensive slew of reviews. Pirates are a worthy second choice. As much as guys like reading magazines like Heavy Metal, the child in them still likes pirates. If not . . . well, they don’t know what they’re missing. They should join the club.

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