When I was a fourteen, a friend made an offhand suggestion about a comic book I should read. Intrigued, I asked my sister to find it at the comic shop in her city, and bring me a few issues.
That comic changed my life. You may have even heard about it: Transmetropolitan.
Homage to The Original Gonzo
My mother had already told me about the gonzo great, Hunter S. Thompson, and given me a copy of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 to read. I was reading newspaper archives about the long hot summers of the 60’s and 70’s, when my mother was just starting to come of age in a world that felt like it was ripping itself apart. Living with my mother on our own in a brand new city, Transmetropolitan became my new best friend. Every time my sister came to visit she’d bring me the newest issues, which I’d eagerly devour. Thompson rang true to me, still does, but TransMet had something Thompson didn’t. It was closer to the world I was aging into. Instead of being about the building blocks current politics have come from, Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan was my preview of the future.
Spider Jerusalem; burn out, reporter, drug addict, returns to a City he loves and despises because his publisher wants his last two books, and isn’t taking anything resembling no for an answer. Spider struggles with fame, drug addiction and the power of being a rock star reporter. Those are the light-hearted parts, when Spider spends money like water just for fun and makes a public spectacle of his half-naked self while high on drugs.
Cyberpunk Dystopia is Our Future
But when police departments across the country were cracking down on protesters with batons and boots in the past year, Spider Jerusalem climbing to the roof of a strip club with a laptop and the watchful gaze of an anxious stripper keeping her eye on him came to mind.
That was when he covered the brutal beatings during the Transient Riots in the Angels 8 district, as his live, unedited words were dumped by his editor into the news, and a city was seared to the root by the truth about what horrible fucking things were happening under their watch. When the LiveStreams were showing us what was happening at Occupy protests, I felt the sick recognition of childhood fiction becoming real and present in my life, even more than the sights of baton wounds on my friends bodies in high school.
Painful and Poigant
When I pick up a camera, I remember the “Another Cold Morning” issue, the story of Mary, a photojournalist from the 20th century, stranded in a future she cannot understand, left alone and without the man she loves. When I watch a Presidential race and all the inherent risks and evils of American Presidential Politics, I pray to everything holy that we don’t get our own Smiler.
I remember the bottom of my stomach dropping out at the end of the Vita Severn plotline. Darick Robertson made plotlines stick years afterward with his art. The things I’m listing off that I remember are unforgettable not only to Ellis’s writing but Robertson’s artistic match to all those plots, those events.
The “War of the Verbals” arc is something I laughed at as a kid. When France’s Culture Ministry banned the use of the word “e-mail” in all government communications in 2003, I stopped laughing. I’d flip back through Transmetropolitan over and over again, handing well worn issues and collected editions over to friends as birthday presents. I stopped having the time in high school to read comics when I started blogging about politics and contributing to the local paper. My freshman year in college, my file carried the admin code for Journalism.
Every few years I go back and read Transmet from start to finish, because as depressing as corruption and evil are, as terrifying and sickening, there is a savage joy in sustaining hope. In fighting what’s wrong in the world it with words, by telling the truth, and never backing down.
Have a comic book that influenced you or changed your life? Tell me about it in the comments or send me an e-mail.