In a world where the comics mainstream remains largely superhero fare, interspersed with lighter content drawn largely from “funnies” strips and cartoons, it’s pleasing that independent comic creators continue to stretch the possibilities of the form.
It’s into this context that Matt Miner and Clay McCormack’s Poser drops like a dose of acid gob. At once a throwback to a quainter, cruder art style and a progressive exploration of the contemporary LA punk scene, this four-part mini dares us to stare at its garish excess.
Miner’s narrative doesn’t feel as though it belongs to this milieu, yet this is where he scores the book’s first points. We open on Redondo Beach in 1982, a fireside gathering of drunk punks crashed by “that weirdo from the pier”, a strait-laced figure in bomber jacket and glasses. Things quickly get violently out of hand, and a local serial killer legend is born.
Rush forward to “TODAY”, and we meet Ash, a member of the local punk community who still lives at home with her dad and works at his record store. Ash used to be in a punk band, and she and her friends – who we also get to know – are thick in the local punk community. Inevitably it isn’t long before the “Poser” killer, so called because he targets poseurs, strikes again. Or is it a copycat?
This is ultimately what Miner gives us: an authentic snapshot of a contemporary punk community overlaid with a serial killer mystery. The narrative trappings are familiar: successive victims, a core group of protagonists being picked on (and off), an impotent police force doing little to quell the situation, and decades-old grudges being settled in the worst way possible. There’s an aimlessness, too, the protagonists trying desperately to survive the threat without doing much to counter it – or even investigate it.
But it’s compelling all the same. The first three issues are absolute page-turners, daring the reader to guess the identity of the next victim, to play detective and piece the clues together.
In truth, the fourth act is a letdown, as is almost inevitable when the first three are so thick with mystery. The blurb on issue #4 dares us to “prepare for a twist as shocking and unexpected as the edge of a knife”. It’s hard to agree with the hyperbole, but the twist is undeniably welcome. There are enough clues to figure out the identity of the killer long before the final act, so the presence of a twist to push events and revelations a little further at least gives the attentive reader a modicum of surprise by way of a reward.
Nevertheless, the twist comes across precisely as that: an artificial and unconvincing turn of the screw by a writer who’s realised his big reveal may not be as impressive as he’d originally intended. The subterfuge is a handy reminder, at least, that there is a precision and expertise inherent in writing a flawless whodunnit.
Where Poser really shines is in the details. Miner fashions an impressive world in his punk-infused Redondo. It is no accident that ‘Redondo Beach’ is a seminal Patti Smith proto-punk track (much) later covered by Morrissey. It lends the book a thematic resonance apparent from the opening caption. This is an American punk aesthetic so seminal that it has adapted into post-punk universality. It’s a crucial hint: Poser isn’t populated by one punk aesthetic, it’s an organic multitude of youthful responses to conservative culture.
Ash, her friends and the background players are visualised by McCormack with meticulous individuality. Authenticity is further heaped on by some impressive artistic ploys. Lesser known punk acts have their names splashed across t-shirts, some of them providing crucial subtext. Is Whitney’s destiny to be a Mercy Kill when her singlet is thus adorned? Is the guy in a Minor Threat tee exactly that? When Whitney wears “I Can’t Breathe” – (a nod to the 2014 death of Eric Garner?) – is it because she’s falling apart emotionally?
The characters are likewise written expertly for the most part. There’s a sense of genuine depth, friendship and playfulness among them. The only false step is the relationship Ash has with her father. Their occasional familial eruptions are regularly diffused by a perverse “I love you” exchange that never sits quite comfortably. There’s a good reason for it, but the reader might come away from the experience wondering if there was an equally idiosyncratic but ultimately less awkward way of depicting the dynamic.
Violence and virtue are stunningly rendered throughout. McCormack’s art – and especially Doug Garbark’s colouring – sets and maintains the ideal tone. The art style is appropriately garish throughout, especially McCormack’s four covers. There’s a clear “fuck you” punk aesthetic at its heart, and the colouring continually screams “retro four-colour pastel” without ever stooping so low on a technical level.
The violence is incredibly brutal. There’s a first-wave punk aggression to the killings that will leave readers gasping. Murders are full-page splashes amid a sea of rectangular panels, bloodied like frame blowups from a Lucio Fulci giallo. Both 1982 and present-day punk aesthetics nail the periods effortlessly. The 1982 prologue is a Sex Pistols/Billy Idol afterthought of genuine punk posers, while the “TODAY” representation is extremely diverse, reflecting a genuine community while serving as a love letter to the creators’ favourite indie acts.
While undeniably flawed, particularly in the conclusion of its whodunnit framing narrative, Poser is a delightfully direct treat for fans of 1980s slashers and punk music of all eras. It’s also a reminder of the potency and potential of independent visual storytelling, unshackled from commercial concerns and self-censorship. Precisely what punk is all about.
Though review copies are sadly missing the feature, issue #1 is accompanied by an impressive gimmick: a 7” EP featuring songs actually “played” in the comic. A genuine soundtrack album!
Poser is available at all comic stores not worth stomping to the ground while The Saints’ debut album plays on scratchy vinyl loop in the background, or direct from Waxwork Records.