Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends ‘The Originals Essential Edition’ hardcover, out May 16 from Berger Books and Dark Horse Comics.
By Arpad Okay. Young mod Dave Gibbons had a cynical dream of the future. His culture: advanced and yet frozen. New threads. Flying scooters. No work. Shitty cities. No peace. The Originals is a gangster story, the kids who aren’t alright, the ones who should grow up but can’t.
The contradiction of past and future combined causes a tension that pervades the book. Best friends find camaraderie in a fashionable scooter club (the titular Originals), love on the dance floor, adventure through drugs. Trouble with bikers. Boredom in a small town. The Originals is a romance in the wreckage of the domestic industrial world of tomorrow. The smokestacks in the background, the garbage on the streets, but the silhouettes that darken alleyways are highly-coiffed, debonair rebels.
England may not have changed much with the passage of decades, but mod trappings certainly have. The toe-to-nose overcoats resemble Blade Runner not Doctor Who. The metal flowerpot helmets and wraparound shades have the Originals looking like robots, only with retro shoes and checkered pants sticking out of the bottom. The scooters float without wheels, their chrome carriers as convoluted as a circuit-boards or sacred geometry, with extra lights and extra mirrors and odd struts and exhaust ports. Their rivals, the motorcycle gangs, have flying bikes, too, but their style is still pompadours, leather jackets, engineer boots. The mods are all stylish and gorgeous and the rockers are all slobs.
Originals is perhaps first a highly detailed love letter to a movement, but Gibbons is no slouch on driving a compelling story to frame all this fashion upon. Lel and Bok are best mates, sure, but Lel has dreams of mod fame and lets nothing stand between him and being a real Original. He gets the girl. He scores the threads, the scooter. Hocks the speed and takes it, too. Lel lives the life until the life gets old, but his growing up comes at the expense of his friendships.
Lel is a bit of a wanker, really. A hero in his own mind, but actually a self-centered teenager who looks good because he’s the one telling the story. Lel is convinced his nemeses are the biker gang, but the person who causes him the most grief is his fellow Original, Warren. Warren has everything Lel does, paid for by his rich family. Lel is poor, sells pills to work his way up, but does selling drugs somehow make you legit? In a consumer culture where status is possessions, does how you get it really matter?
It’s a nuanced tale bathed in style. Glance or stare and The Originals is chrome and tailored, but peer around the edges, behind the curtain, and the real tale is told. The book itself ages into maturity as the chapters pass. Boys play hard, get hurt, strike back, break things. There aren’t any heroes, or even anti-heroes, just twists of fate that push men towards darkness despite their best intentions. It was crucial to Gibbons to tell a story that was more than an homage to the scene. The Originals is every bit as mint as the stuff that made the mods.
Gibbons really brings it to the visuals. His distinct style for faces is there, and his take on fashion, dance culture, scooters, and futurism, it’s all top-notch. Beyond this, his scripting is innovative, the pacing laid out with the eye of a veteran. Splash pages abound. Everything is portrayed in a film grain monochrome, a sly nod to the art film aesthetic that the mod fashion book was in part cribbed from. Gibbons also scripts Lel’s inner monologue to take place outside of the panels, a choice that comes to a head intensely during a breathtaking highway motorcycle and scooter brawl that isn’t even the climax of this triumph of a yarn.
The Originals packs a real wallop. You can absolutely feel that Gibbons put his all into it — the result impressive, authentic, and heartfelt. The Originals was his world, and it’s done right. The flash is there. The storytelling is there. Berger Books has done us all a real service by bringing this bona fide ledge back into print.
Berger Books/Dark Horse Comics/$29.99
Written by Dave Gibbons.
Art by Dave Gibbons.
Letters by Dave Gibbons.
Edited by Karen Berger.
Essential Edition edited and designed by Richard Bruning.