Journey: Featuring The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire
Down from the Attic: 2
“Whatever darkness a man has inside him, he brings with him into the frontier.”
Yep; all these years on and I still get a little frisson at seeing Joshua ‘Wolverine’ MacAlistaire stepping out of the concealing shadows and mouthing those words.
On my trip to the fabled attic last Christmas it’s a sad fact that all I found I had left of old Josh was the slim Fantagraphics Books publication, Tall Tales. It contains the first four chapters of Journey, which was a 27 issue saga that followed a 19th century frontiersman as he travels through the Michigan Territory in order to deliver a package on the East Coast.
Perhaps ‘saga’ gives the wrong impression, however. In reality it is an excuse for the writer and artist William Messner-Loebs to observe the minutia of some particular characters in the situations they would find themselves in during this period.
His artwork is basic, at best; it’s in black and white, with often minimal lines making up backgrounds – but by heavens, does it work! From his deceptively few lines and the way that he controls his panels, he creates a completely convincing world. And into that world he drops often painfully thin stories; and yet they fascinate. The reader almost finds himself mentally leaning forward to catch each nuance.
The narrator’s voice, dry and chatty as you imagine him lighting up a pipe, pulls the reader in to Josh’s tale from the opening:
‘His name was MacAlistaire. That’s the first thing…Josh MacAlistaire. ‘Course, he was known as Wolverine…yep, Wolverine MacAlistaire. There’s considerable legends about him…’course, I don’t aim to repeat none of the trashy ones.
‘Boone and Crockett, Jed Smith and Jed Clampett, Jim Bridger, Liver Eatin’ Johnson and Ole Nate Bumpo…MacAlistaire was as well-known as any of ‘em in his time, though nowadays purely forgot…’
Messner-Loebs himself is an interesting character. A cancerous tumour cost him his right arm when he was a kid but that didn’t stop him writing and drawing with his left one. I find I relate to the guy as he has had similar financial woes and anyway – who could resist a dude who illustrated a book called Chicken Wings for the Beer Drinker’s Soul?
And… are you ready for the kicker? He slips into Chapter 4 a very nice homage to the great H. P. Lovecraft himself!
Now, I know…I know. You’re out there saying Jesus Pleezus, this guy sees Lovecraft references everywhere; but get a load of this. The character that is getting on Josh’s nerves is called Herr Craft and is busy reciting one of his horror tales:
‘Black and dismal the slug-like clinging night swirls about me. The ground, ripe with evil, sucks at my feet. A rotten, gibbering moon leers at me with forgotten glamour.
‘Suddenly It appears before me. Ancient, dreadful deity of the degraded aborigines — Quasihablimoobu, Squeezer of Shadows. At last it comes for me; hideous, inhuman. I hear myself gibber insanely…’
OK, fair enough; it’s more a piss-take than homage, but still… Mind you, he is drawn to look more like Edgar Allan Poe so maybe Loebs was going for two for the price of one.
Of all the comic book collections that I sold off in the ‘nineties, I think that Journey is the one I regret most; possibly because it may be the hardest to replace.
Unless someone out there is planning a movie version? Think about it: it would make a great Western. And I’d rather see one tale of Wolverine MacAlistaire than a dozen other films about that guy with the big adamantium claws and the similar name…