British Telly personality Jonathan Ross turns his hand to comics, with a tale of Vampiric gangsters. But is it any good?
Turf #1(of 5)
Written by Jonathan Ross
Art by Tommy Lee Edwards
You’ve probably noticed that in the last few years, there’s been a glut of ‘celebrities’ coming into comics and trying to be writers. Most of these are bollocks, rejected movie pitches with Rosario Dawson or Milo Ventimiglia half-assedly co-writing a badly drawn version of themselves. It’s depressing in many ways. But then there the famous people who come into our little enclave and actually have the chops and the passion, Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, and now Jonathan Ross.
Ross is not very well known in the States, but in the UK at times it seems you can’t escape him. He presents a weekly chat show on BBC1, a movie review show, a weekly radio show, and is in the tabloids all the time (research Sachsgate and see just how retarded the British media can be). So Ross is everywhere, but he’s also a massive comics nerd, he references Silver Age Marvel on his radio show, and has even had Neil Gaiman on as a guest twice. Perhaps the best thing he’s ever done is the BBC4 documentary ‘The Search for Steve Ditko’ where he and Gaiman actually went and met the reclusive Spider-Man creator. It should be on torrents somewhere, and features a memorable appearance from Alan Moore.
So he’s got the nerd cred, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to being a decent writer. I’m a massive nerd, but does that mean I can write? Probably not, but from Turf #1, it appears that Ross can. The concept of Turf is fairly simple. It’s 1920s gangsters, but with Vampires, and an alien.
But Ross goes deeper than that. The first thing to note about Turf is that it is a very dense read. This is a verbose comic to say the least. It’s a welcome antidote to decompression, which I generally don’t mind, but it makes a book like this all the more special. Each page is full to brim with dialogue and caption boxes, it’s lucky they’ve got John Workman, perhaps the greatest letterer of all time involved. The positive thing about the compression of this issue is that all the characters seem well-fleshed out, even in only #1, and that the book already feels like a sprawling epic. You’ve got the Vampire twins Gregori and Stefan Dragonmir, who having been chased out of the old country, have differing views on how the Vampires should operate. There’s Susie, a go-getting reporter with strong views on Prohibition. There’s Eddie Falco, a gangster but a gangster who seems to have some degree of honour. Plus there’s an Alien, who in an interesting parallel with the central plot thread of Prohibition is an intergalactic smuggler.
Ross manages to juggle all these plots and characters magnificently, and still finds time for some stand-out moments. Stefan Dragonmir’s confrontation with Don Bava, Eddie’s creepy as hell visit to the Barbers. This is very strong stuff.
I think what helps Ross in his debut comics effort is that he’s paired with one of the best artists in the business, Tommy Lee Edwards. Ross was introduced to Edwards by their mutual friend (and Edwards’ Marvel 1985 collaborator) Mark Millar, we should thank the Scottish Comics Cupid for playing such good matchmaker. Just as Ross’ atypical (for today) wordy style is different from what we expect, Edwards is an entirely unique artist. I can’t think of anyone else currently working who’s style is even remotely like his. Edwards’ lines make the NYC of Turf seem very real, it’s down and dirty, it’s corrupt, but yet he also makes the more fantastical elements feel like they fit. Vampires and Aliens, Edwards makes it all seem like one, very real world.
For Americans, who don’t know Jonathan Ross from Adam, this is just a strong comic, with great ideas, interesting characters, and a very wide scope, you could do worse than pick it up, For British folk, who may very well be sick to death of Ross, it’s worth a second look, he’s managed to turn fan enthusiasm to strong professional results. Ross himself is entering new Turf with this book, and he may surprise you.