Blandgorgeousartsampler

It’s common for a bunch of artists to collaborate on a series, but Madi (as far as I know) has only been published as a single album, and the different contributors are deployed to produce aspects of the book’s formal structure, rather than simply taking it in turns to draw instalments or chapters. It’s the work of some extremely well known artists, and some more underground ones, including a couple of my lesser-known favourites, James Stokoe and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. Along with Stokoe and Valero-O’Connell the comic is by Dylan Teague, Glenn Fabry & Adam Brown (colours), Duncan Fegredo & Jacob Philips (colours), LRNZ, Ed Ocaña & Raúl Arnáiz (presumably colours), André Araújo & Chris O’Halloran (colours), Simon Bisley, Kelly Fitzpatrick (colours for Valero-O’Connell), Tonci Zonjic, Skylar Partridge & Marissa Louise (colours), Pia Guerra & Matt Wilson (colours), R.M. Guéra & Giulia Brusco (colours), Chris Weston & Sergey Nazarov (colours), Rufus Dayglo & Sophie Dodgson (colours), Annie Wu, David Lopez and Nayoung Kim (colours), and Christian Ward.

I felt it was necessary to list them all here as none of their names appear on the cover—although for some bizarre reason, the script credit is given there (Duncan Jones and Alex de Campi). Jones is a movie director (and David Bowie’s son), but de Campi is an established comics writer, which makes it frankly astonishing that she agreed to take a cover credit when the artists were consigned to the inner back pages. Let’s be clear about this: comics are made by artists. You can take the art and write a new script for it, but to do the inverse is to make a new comic. Clearly de Campi and others involved in producing this book are well aware of how comics work in formal terms, but this decision seems to have been taken in ignorance. Only in very exceptional circumstances is the writer (when the roles are separated) the author of the work: most of the time, the script is to the comic as the storyboard is to a movie—optional. You can have a comic without words, but not without pictures.

It’s probably clear that I don’t consider the aforementioned ‘very exceptional circumstances’ to apply. De Campi and Jones are not Alan Moore, and their work on this comic does not represent a significant contribution to the language of the medium—although credit is due for the effective way they manage the transitions from artist to artist. Madi is a cookie-cutter cyberpunk thriller, populated by one-dimensional characters, which lacks even the creative courage to leave any loose ends at the closure-bound conclusion to the narrative. I don’t mean to say that it’s ‘bad’—in fact, it’s ‘good’, and I enjoyed reading it a great deal. But as a narrative it’s a genre-conforming essay in the priority of technical over creative expertise—it’s designed to entertain in the same way as an action movie or a pop record, and it does so without calling into question anything its audience might already think about its themes or stylistic tropes.

The story is well-made, its narrative momentum carefully managed, its characters quickly fitted out with their distinguishing features if they’re going to stick around, or left entirely bland if they’re going to be killed off early. It’s an exemplary piece of professional writing. I couldn’t identify remotely with any of the characters, the least unsympathetic of whom are the kind of gung-ho thugs with no appreciable inner life that it’s conventional to portray as ‘heroic’. What I liked about the comic was the art, which is why it felt so extraordinarily ludicrous that it was the writers who had their names on the cover.

Madi is a gorgeous piece of collaborative world-building, its imagery coruscating on the page, and the sheer diversity of drawing styles stands in effectively for the variety of overlapping subjectivities that any successful secondary world has to simulate. I doubt whether the artists saw one another’s work before publication, and it’s probably the better for it—although its cyberpunk setting is a catalogue of second-hand ideas, in the hands of these artists it comes alive. That the changing visual landscape doesn’t correspond coherently to the points of view of the characters is really neither here nor there. If the characters had been imagined more concretely then it would probably have jarred, but as the point of view is always that of a sterile omniscient narrator, its regular, dramatic shifts in cartooning style serve to keep things interesting, and to invest the story with an additional cross-rhythm which it fails to achieve thematically. I’m absolutely in love with the work of some of these artists, several of whom I know very well from their work in 2000AD and related titles—Teague, Fabry, Fegredo, Ocaña, Bisley, Weston, and Dayglo are all significant contributors to the small world of British commercial comics. Madi is worth reading simply as a sampler of the work of some of the very best comics artists working today—but please, ignore the names on the cover.

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