Transmetropolitan: Back on the Street

This title is another recommendation from my friends, the graphic novel experts. The size of writer Warren Ellis’ fan base has been compared to that of Sandman creator Neil Gaiman’s (Yayanos, 2000 retrieved August 4th, 2009 from http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA56388.html?display=current&industry=Comics&verticalid=792&q=warren+ellis). Wired Magazine has called Transmetropolitan the “Graphic Novel of the Decade” (retrieved August 4th, 2009 from http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.12/play.html?pg=4)

Series Title: Transmetropolitan
Writer: Warren Ellis
Penciller: Darick Robertson
ISBN-10: 1563894459 ISBN-13: 9781563894459
City and Publisher: New York: DC Comics
Copyright Date: 1998
Writer’s Website: http://www.warrenellis.com/
Penciller’s Website: http://darickrobertson.com/

Reader’s Annotation: Spider Jerusalem is living on a mountaintop, naked except for hair and tattoos, when his editor calls to tell him that the books he contracted for are way past due and he’d better make his way into the city so he’ll have something to write about. Trailing guns and epithets, he makes his way down the mountain and lands a job (complete with an apartment and journalist’s insurance) writing an opinion column in a vibrant urban waste full of half aliens and two faced cats.

Plot Summary: Spider Jerusalem is the armed and illustrated Hunter S. Thompson of the future (with fewer hallucinogenics). Dragged away from his self imposed exile on a mountaintop, Spider makes his way into the city to fulfill a book contract. In need of money and a place to stay, he waves his guns around until an old friend hires him to write an opinion column. For his first piece, Spider looks into a of group humans fighting for transience, the right to change species.

Critical Evaluation: Ellis writes a gritty story. Spider is a real tough guy, with a vast and varied armament and a mouth like a sailor. Underneath it all is not quite a heart of gold, but at least a yearning for justice. The world is trashy yet vibrant, where human waste (quite literally) can be transformed into the stuff of life. The novel, published by DC, has a classic comic book feel with a major edge. The illustrations seem to explode off the page, and Spider swaggers his way into the reader’s affections.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 16 and up
Curriculum Ties: Transmetropolitan is not really appropriate for any but the most liberal of high schools. If students are studying pop culture or comic art, Transmetropolitan is a gritty example by a well known cartoonist. If students are studying civil disobedience or free speech under fascist governments, it tells a tale of how a journalist can make a difference.
Booktalking Ideas: Presenting illustrations would be an effective way of sharing this book. Page 14, where Spider first arrives in the city, and page 27, where Spider arrives at Angels 8 District, would be two great pieces to show.

Genre: Graphic Novel/Comic
Influences from Other Genres: Science Fiction
Other Information: The first issue is available for free download at http://www.dccomics.com/media/excerpts/1719_1.pdf

Challenge Issues:
Transmetropolitan is probably the most potentially offensive work in this database. From the first page, the characters use profanity. Spider is pictured nearly naked on more than one occasion. Violence tinges every other page. Prostitutes appear in one panel detailing the denizens of the city. The climax takes place on the roof of a strip club. The main character smokes almost constantly, the supporting characters smoke, and even the animals smoke. Partly these details are elements of the comic book aesthetic. Big breasted women and violence have been the bread and butter of this genre for decades. But they also contribute to a larger aesthetic in the case of Transmetropolitan, which tells us that life isn’t pretty but that we can make a difference by noticing the worst of it. Children are influenced by what they read (it’s to what extent and how that are uncertain), and some parents may want to steer their teens away from this novel. But comics have been entertaining teens for a long time, and this is one that some of today’s young adults will want to read.

About the Author: Warren Ellis made his name writing stories for comics in the X-Men and Stormwatch series. He now writes several original graphic novels, and also wrote the book Crooked Little Vein. (More details at http://www.warrenellis.com/)
About the Penciller: Darick Robertson lives in Napa with his wife and sons. He has drawn for both the WOLVERINE and Punisher: BORN series. (More details at http://darickrobertson.com/about/)

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