Sometimes when I get bored of hitting the refresh button on Facebook or Tumblr, I’ll go into some of my favorite artist’s archive and scroll through their old art. I’m not talkin’ six months old, I’m talkin’ five to ten years old. S*** even they haven’t seen in years; complete with awful texturing, obvious Tim Burton inspiration, and gag comics that only ever managed to be mildly amusing. S*** they posted on the internet with the upmost confidence that now serves as a reminder of their awkward teen years for all eternity, like that “awesome” tattoo you got when you were eighteen.
As embarrassing as those works may be for their creators, I find a particular sense of beauty in them. They were the start. The first armature scribblings made by an untrained hand, looking for acknowledgement and improvement. Sometimes they were experiments and resulted in a masterpiece that only comes once in a blue moon. But, for a good chunk of the time, they turned out to be too pointless to even serve as toilet paper.
But you know what: that’s okay. Everyone has their start. Artists, writers, inventors, movie makers, etc. Everyone starts out rough and raw; throwing s*** at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s wonderful. Like watching a baby make their first careful steps before falling face-down on the hardwood floor. There will be cries, there will be tears. Eventually, though, the only option is to get back up and take a few more steps; internalizing the mistakes made to plant the seeds of wisdom.
If you’re wondering what the heck was up with that introduction, today I’m reviewing an early Warren Ellis comic from the nineties.
Lazarus Churchyard is a series that was first published by Tundra Press in 1991 in Blast! #1 before having three more comics produced. Today, the “definitive” stories were collected in a final cut by Image back in 2001. It was written by the aforementioned Warren Ellis who you may know as the writer for the Netflix series Castlevania. (Oh, and also Tansmetropolitan and Planetary.) The original art was done by D’Israeli, real name Matt Brooker, whose other notable works include Kingdom of the Wicked, Scarlet Traces, and Leviathan. This was Ellis’s first major work, written at a time when he was trying to get his foot in the door of the comics industry.
This series follows main protagonist, Lazarus Churchyard, an ex-terrorist who underwent an experimental process called “plasborging”, which replaced 80% of his body with an intelligent plastic material. This allows him to stretch or shapeshift and he uses this ability to morph parts of his body into pointy weapons to rip apart jackasses trying to f*** him up. Basically, he’s a violent, drug-addicted Plastic Man. The process also gave him immortality, which is one of those things everyone thinks they want until they realize that they still have to live in the same crappy world forever.
Our story takes place 400 years after the experiment, and Laz is kinda just a walking plastic bag of anger and depression. At this point, he’s seen all the misery and mayhem the world has to offer and he’s quite frankly sick of it. Yeah, there are some bright spots but, for the most part, it’s all b******* to him. He just doesn’t care anymore and wants to die already. Uplifting.
Anyways, we follow along as Laz shuffles through life and gets into all kinds of shenanigans. This includes a trip into cyber-heaven to retrieve the virtual soul of a genius, going up against the ludicrously powerful corporation ”Isis Elek” due to the fallout of the previous event, running a fetish nightclub for a while, and taking care of some unfinished business from his days before he became a silly putty-cyborg. He’s a busy dude.
Also, according to the pages of “I Hate It Here”, he visited Spider Jerusalem’s favorite bar. Neato.
You can see the familiar bits of Ellis’s writing style here like dark humor, a science fiction backdrop, monologuing, and lots of swearing. There’s also a rawness to the emotions, particularly when Laz is feeling depressed, that has become his definitive invisible signature. It’s very rough compared to his later works but I find it kind of fascinating to look back at something he did before he became famous. Kinda like looking back at some of your old journals to see how far you’ve come as a writer; it’s embarrassing but makes for a fun afternoon.
But that might just be me.
The art for this comic is post-modern pulpy with an underground feel to it. I don’t like judging art because I’m a writer, not an artist. But there are some points in this series where the art is bad. Not sure how to explain it, but some parts look half-baked, particularly in the panels with just a blank background. This primarily happens in the first issue though, and rarely in the later issues. I don’t know the specifics as to why this was and internet research only gave me so much.
That being said, I really like the design of the world Laz lives in and the technology. It’s the future but it’s gloomy and grungy with a lot of dark alleys where the cool bars and clubs can be found. I also love the design for Laz himself; he looks like a grandpa who refuses to acknowledge that his punk days are over. Also, D’Israeli combined my two favorite physical traits: glasses and long hair. At the end of the day, I’m forgiving with art so long as it’s interesting.
Now I know this is going to come across as a non-criticism, but this series should have been longer. The chapters are structured in an episodic format which would be fine in a longer running series. However, with a short run, the episodic format feels like a let-down because, with these types of series, there’s an unspoken promise that there will be more to come. Then, when it comes out that there won’t be more, the reader (i.e. me) feels cheated. You go through all the trouble to build this cyberpunk future world and an interesting character only to leave us on a rooftop in Iceland? What the f***! There’s so much potential here dude!
(And before anyone comments, yes, I know the reason why Tundra Press didn’t request more work. Ellis himself explained it in his documentary. Such is life.)
So, is this the lesser known Warren Ellis masterpiece that trumps all of his other works? No, not even close. It is, however, an entertaining and interesting look into Ellis’s early career that serves as a reminder that everyone has to start somewhere. I enjoyed it and I’m confident in saying that you’ll probably get a good laugh at it too (especially with the talking toilet). Give it a shot.
(And now I await the cybernetic, talking cane to show up at my doorstep just to call me a piece of s*** and caving my face in before grumbling its way back to England.)