Comicsphere: The Last American

nineties comic This was something permanently lodged in my brain as something that presented the whole idea of a post-apocalypse world in a more realistic way than a lot of comics and other media. It was bleak, and McMahon’s stylised art seemed to amplify that. Everything about the comic had a sparseness to it — that spare art of storytelling that lets an idea sink in frame by frame instead of lathering it on until you want to say enough is enough. I don’t think I’m the only one that grew up in the era of Thatcher and Reagan who had a bit of an obsession about being blown to kingdom come by nuclear missiles. I read all about Hiroshima, watched When The Wind Blows just to name two things out of a constant stream of dead-end futures saturated in radiation. I think I initially read two parts of this when it was anthologised by Manga alongside Cholly & Flytrap, Tank Girl, The Light & Darkness War, Akira and The Castle Of Cagliostro. Those strips were a formative experience, along with 2000AD and the early work of Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis in shaping what I thought constituted a modern comic — what the form might be capable of. The Last American was satirical, political and scary and that is always a great thing — not to say that there wasn’t humour but it was deadpan, rare, and almost crushed by the monumental weight of what has happened in the story. The survival of the main character Pilgrim is a testament to man’s ingenuity but it is a Pyrrhic victory. I am associating but it makes me think of those words on the base of the statue of Ozymandias ‘Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” — it captures the spirit of this book, a fitting message to the architects of the cold war. It was definitely worth tracking down the original mini-series and now it has been collected in a graphic novel, which is even better.

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