Graham Coxon is best known as the guitarist in Blur as well as having a successful solo career and running the record label Transcopic. With Superstate he joins that select club frequented by members as diverse as Margaret Atwood and Keanu Reeves, the Comics Written By People Who Aren’t Famous For Writing Comics club. Is Superstate a Great Escape or is it more a case or Modern Life is Rubbish?
Publisher: Z2 Comics
Writer: Graham Coxon, Helen Mullane, Alex Paknadel
Artist: Anna Wieszczyk
Price: £11.99 from Amazon
Superstate is a big story made up 14 separate narratives which come together at the end (sort of). It takes place in the not-too-distant future where Earth is a burnt-out wreck of a planet. The wealthy have waved goodbye and headed offworld. Those left behind will do anything to escape from a planet where life is purposely hard to benefit the corporations who sell anti-depressants. Over the course of Superstate we meet many memorable characters including LILY, a robot built for her owner’s pleasure who’s had enough of being treated as an object, Malin Schwartz, the astronaut who keeps missing out of the chance to leave Earth and Betty, the actress whose showbiz career is behind her and who can only get a job on a reality show where she’s being hunted by bored millionaires. The book is a collection of similarly tragic tales like Tommy Gun, the story of a family who have enough money to leave the planet but can’t afford to take all their children with them and Uncle Sam which shows us what happens to a family who can only stay sane by being medicated when their medication runs out. All of the stories are linked to accompanying tracks on Coxon’s latest album.
It’s fair to say that some of the ideas are riffs on ones we’ve seen before. From pleasure robots who have had enough (Westworld), the super-rich deserting a broken planet (Blade Runner) to a brain-washed populace living a lie (Logan’s Run) and armed future soldiers keeping dwellers from the wastelands away from the city’s wall (Dredd) there are many familiar dystopian tropes on display. Part of this, however, is the nature of the genre and Coxon, by giving us so many intersecting characters and storylines, is frequently inventive, original and often very funny. It needs to be noted though that a lot of the heavy lifting story-wise comes from co-writers Helen Mullane (Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen) and Alex Paknadel (writer of Vault comics excellent Giga). There’s some great world-building here and a few stories in, you really feel that you have a sense of the desperate world of Superstate.
There a lot of different artists working on this project, all of whom have very different styles. Coxon himself provides the painted cover with interior art being provided by the likes of Eryc Donovan, Minerva Fox and Soo Lee. In many ways it’s similar to Duncan Jones’ Madi, not just because of its grim, futuristic setting but also because of it’s rotating art teams. In Superstate, each chapter gets a different artist. This can work very effectively at times. Kendall Goode’s clear linework on book-opener Yoga Town reminded me of David Hine’s character-driven art for Sticky Fingers from British anthology Crisis. Ivan Stojkovik’s scratchy art on We Remain really captures the hopelessness of a woman trapped in a world she knows she can never escape from. At times the change in style is rather jarring although this does fit the varied tone of the individual chapters.
Superstate is an experiment, mixing political commentary, storytelling, art and music. The story may be a familiar one but it’s always entertaining, often thought-provoking and worth investigating. Coxon’s first solo album might have been Happiness in Magazines but for the moments he’s also providing us with happiness, and food for thought, in comics.