The Complete The Killer
Matz and Luc Jacamon, translated by Matz and Edward Gauvin, with lettering by Marshall Dillon (Chapters 1-10) and Deron Bennett (Chapters 11-13)
Archaia for BOOM! Studios
The Complete The Killer (RRP $39.99) is unbelievably long. Unreasonably, as a PDF—my internet’s not great, but even so—it took a full hour to load and open. Twice—that’s how hefty it is. If you manage to read the whole thing in a day, have a mojito in my name, because you must be on holiday somewhere with long days. It’s seven hundred and thirty-something pages. The trouble is that it’s hard to stop reading once you’ve started. It’s a tremendously effective comic.
The Killer is what I would call a slice of life. I never really know if I’m on the same wavelength as the average “slice of life” describer. Every section of the complete volume (presumably each one is a single album, in the French style) covers a new chapter of one man’s life. The total story lasts perhaps ten or fifteen years. (There may be year cues available within the work, but I forgot to note them while I had it on my screen. Forgive me! I’m not spending another hour waiting for the thing to open to be precise. It doesn’t matter a great deal.)
The main character is a hitman, freelance, and he internally monologues a lot. We see how he lives, how he works, and how there’s nothing else in his life except the vague concept of leisure. We see friends and lovers creep into the edges of his psyche, how he uses them, how he feels obligation toward them, and what the limits of his ability to be a friend and a lover are. We hear his evolving politics and his philosophies, and the limits of his ability to debate morality. Things happen to the Killer—his best friend knows him only as “Killer,” which he manages to make an endearment—and he continues to exist. They are not technically “mundane experiences,” but they comprise a “seemingly arbitrary sample” of his life and lack, if not a coherent one, then a determined, act-based plot, a technical conflict, and an ending. It’s a flex: this isn’t “going somewhere.” It’s just going. And you’re captivated. It feels satisfying to read. That’s good comics.
This is the first French comic I’ve read which is so thickly assembled. It has the same clear azure skies and seas as IR$ or Lady S or other S-unrelated action-adventure bandes-desinees, but the texture of application is thicker, reading like opaque paint instead of an ink or water-based wash. Covers are listed here as painted with acrylics or mixed media, and early pages as felt pen or markers. To me it looked digitally created from the beginning, but in fact this doesn’t seem to be the case until one hundred and one pages in. Nevertheless, the chunky lines and choice to shade in jerky chunks has a digital painter’s impression from page one. This transitioned well into digital practice, forty-plus pages into volume two. For that reason, the book looks more immediately modern, but Jacamon’s stylised facial anatomy also contributes. Killer’s mouth is lipless, he usually wears sunglasses over his small, colourless eyes, and the knife of his nose comes right out of the slope of his forehead. His hair is combed straight back. Overall, the effect is like someone stuck a vacuum to the base of his skull and his body, when seen, is similarly reduced. It’s tight, it’s slim, it’s trim. It’s good to look at, but it’s about being missable.
This is good storytelling, or perhaps you could even say it’s good worldbuilding. (Who’d survive as a paid murderer if they were easy to spot and remember, right?). It’s helped along by a greater detail being extended to other character designs. Mariano, the best friend and frequent colleague, has fuller lips and defined cheekbones; these work for the contextual shorthand his character needs (“favoured nephew of South American drug baron”) and make him obviously engaging and personable, explaining why Killer might take to him. But these are also features that other characters tend to have. Diegetically, Killer stands out by not standing out.
The women that Killer sleeps with are functionally identical, two differently toned mannequins wearing different wigs, both even having the same pubic grooming habits. Again, this works to imply something about Killer and create a greater sense of his particular worldview, but their face and body are also found on other women in the book (a woman Mariano sleeps with, for example). In sum, it feels like they’re designed that way, in the Manara mould, because that’s what Jacamon thinks a sexually active woman looks like. These women are an Indigenous Venezuelan, an Afro-Cuban diplomat, and a European supermodel. Communicatively, this aspect of the comic doesn’t quite manage to suggest Jacamon’s genuine perspective is that far from his character’s. That confuses the sense of pure portraiture that one might assume, or want to assume, that a narrative regarding an unrepentant hitman might be. Matz prefers not to name Killer’s long term lover (Mariano calls her “your girl,” another friend “your wife”), and his Cuban hook-up is usually referred to in that way, by her nationality. We get a good view of those women’s neat, landing strip bushes in more than one scene of their individual sex with Killer, but barely come close to a peek at Killer’s happy trail. And there’s absolutely no chance of glimpsing dick.
As readers, we’re well situated inside Killer’s head, his regular monologuing tells us that. The lack of scenes in which he doesn’t feature reinforces it. But we don’t literally see through his eyes. We are looking at how he observes himself. Is it the most apt choice to show us exactly how he grabs a breast, rather than how he moves his ass? It’s the choice that Jacamon and Matz made. They made him a man who gazes endlessly at himself in terms of power and profession, even philosophy, and never during coitus. It is evocative. It is craft that completes its mission; nevertheless, let us not miss the limits of its own creation.
I wouldn’t say that The Killer “has a point” beyond “make this all seem real.” The identikit women make it seem less real. If it were only Killer’s lovers who matched one another that dreamy unreality would have seemed like an indictment of his bullshit, a cue that he’s as full of himself as he thinks everyone else is and as little of a realist as he thinks he is the bourgeoisie, an acknowledgement that he’s an unreliable narrator, instead of a collusion with the unreliable narrator we call Patriarchy. This would also have made the occasional brief moments of casually spoken misogyny from Killer less annoying, as I would rather hear about an asshole from someone who doesn’t agree with them than from someone who does.
The most interesting part of the earliest volume, the thing that really made me pay attention to what became a satisfyingly gripping story, is the visualisation of Killer’s experiences of mental pressure and stress. The panels “glitch,” splinter, and repeat. This is another way that the book feels contemporary. Removing the glitch aesthetic from technological context, applying it to a situation where its ability to communicate “this is fucked up and I’m mad it’s not working” makes perfect emotional sense, serves to blend the technological aesthetic with the natural. This is an honest way to portray the modern mind. Even though Killer is rarely seen with technology, he is a product of today, and he fears the things that current thinkers fear: being identified too much. His inability to fully separate himself from his human community is what shows him to be a hypocrite with no real philosophy. His inability to have an actually different mind from that of his fellow man is a necessary aspect of his character and needs to be displayed. Without hubris, this is just a seven-hundred page sequence of puppets being clacked together and dying. Luckily it has plenty.
The speech bubbles of this comic are rectangular, which is unusual to the Anglo reader, but fairly regular in French comics. The texture of these bubbles is especially good. Both captions and speech are unevenly shaped, and neither habitually have outlines, but often (letterers do vary between chapters) the speech bubbles have a rough, ragged edge that suit both the texture of the art at large and the voice of a character we meet smoking. It sets a tone and stops the reader from moving too fast. Sandpaper slides are slower than polished ones. You do need to read this comic, read the words; it’s all dialogue. When a book has narrative captions, they may be in the voice of an unnamed, omniscient narrator, and if they are, then that is for some purpose. But these aren’t, and that’s for a purpose too. This is all Killer, talking to you, which casts you in the role of either himself, his confidant, or a voyeur. He doesn’t say much different to the things he says to his friends, which tells you something in itself. He just says a lot more, and he says it slightly more self-absolvently. Additionally, within his mind there is no one to call him on his bullshit except you, and of course, he cannot hear you.
The most fascinating thing about The Killer is how adeptly Matz and Jacamon manage to present a vision of a man who instinctively feels more than he’s willing to proactively feel, and compulsively intellectualises his way out of taking any real interest in anything. His career and lifestyle is self-obliteration coupled with all-cost survival, and I would love to read essays from fathers and sons and indigenous women who married strangers about how Killer raises his family. Jacamon creates full streets and lush jungles, gorgeous vistas around Killer wherever he is, never over-emphasising the man at the expense of the setting, always telling Killer’s lie that he’s nobody special, while he tells Killer’s story about international death-dealing and the world-stage political machination that benefits from his bullets.