In an attempt to describe Six-Gun Gorilla #6 over Twitter to the Right Reverend Tom Zimmer, Esq. a/k/a @victorvonzoom a/k/a the ‘Scotch Slinger Supreme’ I referenced a scene in Bull Durham … as one does.
Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) asks Millie (Jenny Robertson) to describe her ‘clubhouse quickie’ with Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh (Tim Robbins):
Annie: Right, honey, let’s get down to it. How was Ebby Calvin LaLoosh?
Millie: Well, he fucks like he pitches. Sorta all over the place.
It being Twitter, my description was more succinct, I said, ‘Six-Gun Gorilla reads like Nuke LaLoosh pitches and fucks … all over the place.’ To which I should have added: ‘We should all thank God for it.’
Six-Gun Gorilla defies easy explanation. The plot is straightforward enough, but as for the rest of it, ol’ Six-Gun himself says it best: ”More complicated’n that.” Truer words were never said in the pages of a comic book by a primate. The overarching theme of this shaggy dog or gorilla tale traces the importance of ‘story’ itself, the manipulative power of narrative and the supremacy of endings. Six-Gun Gorilla ranks as an anti-establishment comic book, a purgative to ouroboros-like events and long past their prime serials. In a day and age of meme mimicry and where one-hundred-and-forty characters govern limits, it’s a comfort to know ‘story’ still finds a way. In other words: Six-Gun Gorilla don’t hashtag.
As an out loud and proud card-carrying member of the JSA — the Jeff Stokely Association — I urge you, constant reader, to get in on this cartooning talent tout de suite. In theory, it’s got to be easier to have an elephant hang by its tail from a daisy than for Stokely to have to interpret the meta-ness and too clever by half self-referential style of one of (let alone all six) of Simon Spurrier’s scripts for Six-Gun Gorilla. Perhaps it’s why Spurrier lets this story can get so twisty, so meta and feature such Byzantine constructions — it’s due to respect — Spurrier knows Stokely shreds.
Spurrier and Stokely know even a comic book called Six-Gun Gorilla can’t be all ‘pistols at dawn,’ there’s got to be some ‘story’ to go along with the action. Stokely’s energetic style shows even when he draws the titular gorilla squatting like some simian Buddha, bulky and as pyramidal as the nose cone of a rocket. Lines race up and down and across the character’s face, the rest is ink, which sputters to spatters at the margins of the line. And that’s when the gorilla is at rest. So imagine what happens when Stokely lets the monkey off the chain and ”Mr. Griller” gets to have his big showdown with the zebra-stripe-armed six-limbed assassin Auchenbran … he damn near leaps off the page.
O.K. so a cartoonist drawing a character busting out of a comic book panel plays as pedestrian. It’s easy to overlook because of its (ab)use in almost every comic on the stands. Stokely breaks from this trite tradition on purpose. Like Jack Kirby and so many other great cartoonists, Stokely knows how to withhold action and when to let go, when to break boundaries and when to stay inside the lines — the page is as much a composition as the panel. So, when the fight does come to Stokely, it hits, hard. It’s the kind of psychological punch readers may not notice, but its felt.
Cartoonists make their bread on sequential management i.e. storytelling. Like writing, there’s a rhythm to cartooning. A cartoonist has to have an innate sense of louds and softs, tension and release. If the comic book writer sings lead vocal than the cartoonist plays lead guitar. So when the time comes to solo and the cartoonist as talented as Jeff Stokely, the story becomes electric, live, like Alvin Lee on ‘I’m Going Home’ or Ritchie Blackmore on ‘Highway Star.’
The world of Six-Gun Gorilla swings from the bleached out alien world of ”the Blister” to the concrete jungle of the city and the headquarters of ”BlueTech-PV™.” For all Stokely’s flash and dash, it falls to colorist André May to define the contrast. The characters are more colorful in the Blister, but it’s the backgrounds of dandelion yellow and salmon red that separate their world from the wan shades of blue and grey May uses to portray life in the big city. When the two worlds (sort of) come together in the end, May pulls a subtle trick to make the city more of a balance between red and blue, less eggplant and more lilac. After all, colorists got rhythm too.
What about the other one, the writer, Spurrier? What’s he bring to this gunfight? Well, Spurrier wants nothing less than to shake the foundations of narrative and to remind the reader good stories end. No biggie. Spurrier is also keen on the power of endings to transmute from good to great. If Six-Gun Gorilla tracks in conspiracy and intrigue, jumps expectations and messes with the reader’s head, so what? What Einstein ever said a comic book has to be easy?
Give Spurrier his due: he takes a silly public domain character (an old-timey cowboy King Kong) and grafts him into/onto a recognizable and relatable world where c
orporations and the military industrial complex are abed and sell the bravery of being out of range as entertainment. It’s clichés come alive, tales as old as time: a fiction, Six-Gun Gorilla, inside a fiction, Six-Gun Gorilla, about the how stories inside and outside the boundaries of the narrative get told, retold and repurposed for the purpose of telling other stories, more stories, new stories. A monkey brandishing a six shooter may put asses in the seats, but the bigger draw and the most powerful weapon in Six-Gun Gorilla is the power to tell stories.
Spurrier does the most seditious thing a writer of serialized fiction can do, he ends the story. Nowadays that takes brass balls. This isn’t a reboot or slick bit of marketing, it’s an ending. Spurrier is a writer, a closer and even if you are a Six-Gun Gorilla, Spurrier will end you. Simon Spurrier, long may he run.
What stories need most — more than beginnings, more than middles and more than tangents in extremis — is an ending. Six-Gun Gorilla does likewise. Fiction may be eternal, but in the care of smart creators it can (and does) end. And, yes, fiction possesses a regenerative power. That’s fiction. Is there a pattern here, a rhythm? Sure, Spurrier and Stokely may choose to revive their creation, but not now. Six-Gun Gorilla complicates matters, but it’s not complicated, only fiction. See?
As another fiction (a shaggy shamus) sez, ”This is a very complicated case … You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you’s …” That Dude was right, yes, there is a lot to keep track of in Six-Gun Gorilla and its story is, at times — like Nuke LaLoosh’s pitching and fucking — all over the place. So be it. What matters matters most. In the end, what makes Six-Gun Gorilla go is ‘The end.’
Keith Silva likes beginnings, middles and ends, mentioning friends in his writing, and likening twisty comic books to half-remembered lines of dialogue as a way to make lazy comparisons. Follow: @keithpmsilva