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. This week Arpad recommends ‘Savage Town’, an all-new original graphic novel available now from Image Comics.
By Arpad Okay. With a savage pen Philip Barrett draws you in to Limerick City, Ireland, and the mind of Declan Shalvey. The art, blissfully detailed, quiet and indie, expressive and comic and fitting in every way to tell the story, it captures character. The character of the town (beat) and its people (also rather rough). Their bars and neighborhoods. Cars and fashion. The unique flaws in everything. The inseparable nature of people and their homes. But as you go, the little things, ghastly sweaters and neon jog legs, spots, that bit of beer spit in the corner of a mouth, they melt away into story. A true crime yarn as good as they get. Savage Town is not to be missed.
At the heart, Savage Town is about the unlikeliest man to put a boot to Limerick’s neck. This is Jimmy Savage’s story. The reader is dropped in on scams that were already going before the first page was inked; the turf claimed long ago. Savage Town is a family story. Not like clamshell VHS tapes and everyone on the couch. Family as in brothers who run the town. Cousins and more cousins, Hogans, Dawsons, and Jimmy grasping for his piece in the middle. There’s Savage blood and then there’s the blood that flows when business and heritage bump heads.
Limerick is threadbare and showing it. Drugs, money, a few murders, a policeman or two who are smarter than you’d expect, and fate. The balance of power in Savage Town is at the tipping point; the patriarchs more interested in downing pints than running things, their offspring more wanker than gangster, and circumstance is more than happy to tip a well-laid plan tail over teakettle. Life is messy in Limerick and Jimmy Savage is right dipped in shit.
Though loosely based on real events, the criminals in Savage Town are straight out of the pages of a Jim Thompson pulp. They’re mostly incompetent. Their mistakes are plentiful and their comeuppance is swift and bloody. Poor choices from people in power stick Jimmy in the tightest of spots. Bad luck makes things worse. And yet, a few hard men, good at being bad, could pull the Savage family through the needle’s eye. Catastrophe piles on catastrophe as big jobs are delegated to small minds. The threads cross, and cross again, and again, until once clear lines are rolled into an unworkable ball. A knot of Gordian proportions, with Jimmy either holding the sword or falling on it. Savage Town is delightful. It’s unpredictable. It’s Limerick City, and it’s human.
It’s a real monster of a book. Shalvey proves himself to be a masterful writer, nailing a larger than slice-of-life story, showing just the right amount and hiding the rest from the reader until its impact hits hardest. Barrett’s line work recalls Joe Sacco and Ed Piskor, the gentlemen who know how to make reality a dead serious cartoon, all the while as charmingly and distinctly Irish as Shalvey’s script. Jordie Bellaire makes the colors pop from tracksuits to horse poop. Her touch makes the fresh tastes of the gangsters and their toys stand out in a washed-out town the color of bad cafeteria food. Clayton Cowles’ lettering work is as clear and precise as the brogue is thick. It’s an all-around peach of a graphic novel, a dark tale that blasts past expectations with real humor and even realer heart, with deep rewards for those with the stomach to bear witness its to raw, visceral glory.
Written by Declan Shalvey.
Art by Philip Barrett.
Colors by Jordie Bellaire.
Letters by Clayton Cowles.