Studying Scalped: An Introduction

Scalped is the best comic in the world.

I think that’s as good a point as any to begin.  In my humble opinion, Scalped – the Vertigo crime series from writer Jason Aaron and artist R.M. Guera – is the finest ongoing monthly comic on the shelves today, and has been for quite some time.  The opening issue set the stage.  An angry young man called Dashiell Bad Horse returns to the Indian Reservation where he was born, and soon finds himself employed by Lincoln Red Crow, community chief and feared gangster.  But Bad Horse is actually an FBI agent, working undercover to bring Red Crow down.  A good start for a crime thriller.  But as the series has progressed, it has evolved into something much more complex, dealing with big issues like identity, heritage and destiny, and providing us with some of the most fully-realised, compelling characters in comics.  All of this is woven into Aaron’s meticulously-plotted tapestry, usually complimented by Guera’s stunning artwork.

I believe that, one day, Scalped will come to be recognised alongside the likes of Watchmen and The Sandman as one of the great comics of all time.  At least it should be, as in terms of both quality and technical innovation it has already earned its place in the canon of comic book classics.

So why is nobody talking about it?

Every time I read a new issue, I find myself eager to discuss and share the latest bundle of excellence the creative team have provided us.  But even on the internet, where the most obscure of passions are catered to, discussion is relatively scarce.  It’s like Scalped is the comic world’s best kept secret.  Indeed, when I went onto Google to run some searches on Scalped to see what was being said about it, I was disheartened to discover that the most prominent topic of dicussion as regards the book was arguments over whether or not it was racist.  I find the accusation as groundless now as I did then, and addressed the controversy at length in an article I wrote for Comic Book Resources one year ago:

Scalped and the Stereotype That Wasn’t There

But though I refuted the accusations of racism there, and have continued to do so elsewhere, I can’t help but feel that it’s a great shame that this is what I seem to have spend most of my time writing about Scalped focused on.  It’s just so reductive, ignoring all the richness the text has to offer in favor of lowest-common-demoninator squabbling.  So I decided to create an outlet for discussing at length the numerous elements of the comic that merit further exploration.

Recently, we’ve seen the old debate of diversity in comics flaring up again, with the likes of Steve Niles and Eric Powell championing a greater focus on creator-owned work.  What can we do to make sure creator-owned comics get more attention?  One small way we can make a difference is by talking about the comics we love.  And I mean more than simply saying, “This comic’s great!”  Enthusiasm is good, sure, but what’s even better is telling us why the comic is great.  Reviews are good for this, and I try to do my bit with reviewing the creator-owned comics I read.  But even this is ultimately just a subjective expression of opinion.  The next step is analysis, going beyond the quality of individual issues, and really getting into studying the themes and character arcs of the series as a whole.  Let’s start treating our favorite comics as literature worthy of deeper analysis.  Surely the first step of getting the sceptics to view comics as a legitimate, credible artform is to start doing it ourselves.

More than that, every piece of in-depth commentary adds to a body of work.  The more we talk positively about Scalped and provide in-depth commentary about the series on our blogs and sites, the less new readers will look up the series on Google and find nothing but arguments about racism.  I don’t propose that I’m some kind of literary genius or comics expert.  I know my understanding on art is lacking, and I probably won’t be able to talk about the excellent visuals with as much depth as I’d like – though I’ll certainly try!  I’m just a fan of a great comic, that wants more people to be reading it and talking about it.

Are you a fan of Scalped too?  Maybe you can help me out.  Write your own blogs discussing the series, focusing on whatever aspect you choose.  If you write something up, contact me – my twitter ID is johnlees927 –  with a link, I’d love to read your thoughts.  And it doesn’t need to be limited to Scalped: if there is a creator-owned comic you’re passionate about, show that you’re passionate about it!  Share the love!

“Studying Scalped” will be a series of commentaries featured within my blog that I’ll update periodically.  I’m getting the ball rolling with “The Shadow of Scalped”, a slightly-modified version of my latest column for Project Fanboy.  I’ll be posting that up here on my blog soon – watch out for it.  If you read Scalped, I hope you enjoy these blogs and are encouraged to reply and start talking about this series – I’d love to talk more about this series with other fans.  And if you don’t read Scalped… maybe this will convince you to give it a try, and see for yourself just why I think it’s the best comic in the world.