A SPY IN THE HOUSE OF LOVE
This week, Queen & Country, vol. 5 - Operation: Dandelion hits comic book shops and bookstores. Greg Rucka, the writer of the series, was kind enough to ask me to contribute an introduction to the volume shortly after I left Oni Press, where I was one of the editors on the project. I said yes, of course, and after mulling it over for a couple of days, sat down and wrote out a version, playing around with an idea. I gave it a couple of days, decided I didn't like it, and immediately wrote something else. That something else is basically what I turned in, and the original version was little more than me cracking my knuckles and stretching in anticipation of the real thing.
I present to you now, the original version, in all its messy glory, just for the hell of it. When you're done, click on the cover below and buy the damn book. It's good stuff, likely better than what you're currently reading. (You can also go to Amazon, but their listing is screwed up.)
This is a book about spies.
Not just any spies, but the best damn spies that could exist in any world, be it real or fictional. They aren't the best because they can blow up the lair of the evil villain and end up on a raft with a pretty girl without ever spilling their martini, nor are they the best because they are a jaunty brigade of well-dressed individuals who believe in the higher ideal of truth, justice, and whatever way is currently in power.
The Minders--Tara Chace, Tom Wallace, the soon-to-be-met Nick Poole, their leader Paul Crocker, and perhaps most importantly, his P.A., Kate--are the best because they get the job done despite how dirty and inglorious it is and somehow manage to keep their souls intact.
And they do it not for service of Queen and Country, no matter what the title tells you--they do it in service to their comic book counterparts, the best damn people in the industry today. I say this having been one of them, one of the guys down in the Ops Room. I am probably Ron.
You know Ron. He's the guy who nobody likes or has any respect for. He screwed up once. We don't know why or how, but Crocker tells him if he does it again, he's out on his ass. I've always felt sorry for Ron, because everyone gives him shit. I've read ahead, though, and know eventually he claws his way back...if only just a little.
Anyway...the point isn't about what a dunderhead I am, it's about who the Minders are in service to. It's a rather gangly metaphor, adolescent in its design, not quite grown-up but moving as fast as it can towards adulthood given that I just thought of it.
You see, there are a lot of comics on the stands. Just like there are a lot of movies and a lot of TV shows and a lot of trashy novels that they actually expect you to buy before you get on a plane, because God forbid anything should happen to the flight, but if it does, you want to enter the Pearly Gates having just finished the latest "page turner" by some hack who doesn't even know what a metaphor is, much less a gangly one. And like those other mediums, much of what fills the cultural space allotted to comic books is shit.
Not so in indie comics. Indie comics are where you find The Minders, the people with ink all over their hands and peeling punk rock stickers on their laptops, locked away in some dingy basement that could use a good dusting. There are other indie creators at their level, but these guys, they don't have what it takes to be part of Special Section. They work for Kinney, the national team, the ones content to stay in their little world. They'll tell you how that world needs them, but those of us in the Pit, we smile over our Scotch and wink, knowing that in reality they don't have the balls for the work we do.
Frances Barclay is mainstream comics and all the more bitter for it, because mainstream comics knows it needs to go to The Minders if they really want to do anything of quality or relevance anymore. Look at how much work Barclay gives Greg Rucka if you don't believe me.
(And if we really want to keep these balls in the air, we'll say that Hollywood is Walter Seccombe. We don't like it, but they've got a lot of cash and our pockets could use an influx.)
You can't be a Minder without having an unnatural drive to do what you do. You're in it for the long haul when you join Special Section. You can't be weak, you can't give up easily--indie comics creators have a long road to hoe, but when a Minder in this world does his or her job well, the results have long-lasting repercussions.
Greg Rucka is our Paul Crocker. He wants to be Tara, because he likes to wear pretty things, but he's really too good for that. Crocker is in charge of everything. He knows the ins and outs of every operation, and not just the ones under his purview. It's Crocker's job to know what everyone is doing, where all the players are at any given time. He's the one that must maintain the passion and the focus, and the one who will take it most hard when it doesn't work. Anyone who has worked with Greg Rucka or even just read one of his many novels, graphic or otherwise, knows that Greg absorbs the whole of the world around him, sees where each piece does or does not fit in his narrative scheme, and makes art of it. He commands words the way Crocker sends Kate out for coffee, and they sometimes snipe back at him, but it's only because they respect Greg as much as Greg respects them.
For all intents and purposes, Mike Hawthorne is Nicky Poole. He's the new kid on the block that you're about to meet. He's been knocking around, got some good training on books like Ruule, Whiskey Dickel, and his own Three Days in Europe and Hysteria, but now that he's joined the Special Section, Mike's talents have surpassed anything that has come before. If you know what has come before, you're probably thinking that I've made one bold statement too many, but Mike's linework is going to prove you wrong. This guy is phenomenal, it's why we asked him to join up. It was just our crazy luck that he got even more phenomenal while in our presence.
So, not to put too fine a point on it, this is the best that comics has to offer. This is Queen & Country. These are men and women working together at the top of their craft. When you're done reading, you'll be in awe of the things they pull off, but then you'll also understand how they earned the reputation that they have.
--Jamie S. Rich, a spy in the house of love (June 29, 2004)
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