Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Brad Sun. Chris Hunt shows us what’s in store on the very first page. A leering, ominous figure sits in his dungeon-like lair, a cloak mysteriously covering his face. But no more than two words into his dramatic monologue, he lets out a mood-killing cough and has to start again. In Carver: A Paris Story, nothing is ever exactly what it seems. Stacker Lee is hardly the villainous archfiend his Cobra Commander hood would lead us to believe. And our eponymous protagonist isn’t quite the glorious globetrotting action hero he’s made out to be, rugged facial hair and copious violent outbursts notwithstanding.
It’s a genre-savvy world in which we live. Not only do audiences know all the tricks and tropes of storytelling, they’ve learned to anticipate the subversions of those tropes as well. We can watch a movie trailer and figure out the hero is actually the villain, and that the villain is just a figment of his imagination. We already know the island is purgatory and we know the first letter of each episode spells “FRING’S BACK.” And while this game of one-upmanship between creators and consumers can be fun, it can also quickly become exhausting.
Too often lost among all the contrived plot twists and post-modern gimmicks is emotional resonance, pathos, and a genuine sense of humanity. The best art, after all, doesn’t just make us stroke our chins and think, “Ah, how clever.” It’s causes us to reflect and feel and maybe even shed a tear or two. Chris Hunt know this and, most importantly, his characters do too. And it’s this self-awareness that transforms A Paris Story into something far more profound and tragic than the template on which it’s constructed.
Which brings us back to Stacker Lee, who against all odds emerges as the book’s conscience and heart. Even as he’s swept up in the gritty tale of action and adventure that’s playing out around him, he can’t help but despair at the roles he and his adversary have been dealt. While Carver dispenses one-liners and executes henchmen with macho leading man bravado, an exasperated Lee exclaims, as if to the reader, “That’s insane! That’s something an insane person does. Am I right?”
But despite his theatricality and cartoon mobster accent, Lee’s fourth wall breaking antics aren’t played just for laughs. There is genuine sorrow in his understanding of the masks, both figurative and literal, that he and his cohorts wear, and the clichés we all unconsciously choose to embody. Not that any of these insights make Lee any less susceptible. To borrow a line from Watchmen’s Dr. Manhattan, he’s ultimately just a puppet that can see the strings.
This mix of pulpy fun and thoughtful introspection extends to the artwork as well. Hunt employs bold gestural brushstrokes with a stylish confidence. But beneath the virtuosic panache and romantic violence there’s an understated elegance, even vulnerability. Whether it’s a quickly scribbled sound effect or the subtle gray hues of an ink-washed shadow, Hunt’s art never seeks to hide the human touch. Even as we’re absorbed in Carver’s story, we’re reminded of the tactile motion of brush against paper, the physical act of creation. And it’s this human touch, visually and thematically, that gives A Paris Story its potency.
Amidst all the meta commentary and self-awareness, it makes perfect sense that while preparing for a climactic showdown our heroes would choose to don classic signifiers of their respective archetypes — a cowboy hat, a leather jacket, a flamboyant fur coat. It’s a fun and triumphant moment undercut with bittersweet acceptance. By now we’ve learned that all it takes is an ill-timed cough to expose the artifice and reveal the wounded soul hidden beneath.
Written and illustrated by Chris Hunt.
Preface by Paul Pope.
“Vas a Morir!” by Alexis Ziritt & Chris Hunt.
Design by Tyler Boss.