Jonny Crossbones

By | Wednesday, April 30, 2008 Leave a Comment
Maybe it's just me, but has anyone else noticed a seeming resurgence in ligne clair comics? You know, the stuff where people immediately start making comparisons to Tintin? Here's a quick description, courtesy of Wikipedia...
Ligne claire (French for "clear line") is a style of drawing pioneered by Hergé, the Belgian creator of The Adventures of Tintin. It is a style of drawing which uses clear strong lines which have the same thickness and importance, rather than being used to emphasize certain objects or be used for shading (for this reason it is sometimes also called the democracy of lines). Additionally, the style often features strong colours and a combination of cartoonish characters against a realistic background. The use of shadows is sparse and all elements of a panel are delineated with clear black lines. The name was coined by Joost Swarte in 1977.

Well, I stumbled on Les McClaine's Jonny Crossbones last night. It's the story of Jonny Crossbones (a young man who inexplicably looks like he's wearing a skeleton Halloween costume, which is seemingly wholly unnoticed by all the other characters) and Gretchen Fiveash (the niece of a wealthy archaeologist and researcher) who find themselves pulled in to an adventure, as two unethical professors from the local university have begun stealing antique pistols that once belonged to the pirate Captain Bill Strangler in the hopes of finding his lost treasure.

The story thus far is indeed reminiscent of Tintin, both in the artistic style McClaine uses as well as the overall themes and structure of the strip. Two things stand out as markedly different, though. First and (and for our purposes here) most superficial is that McClaine is using the web as his delivery system instead of dead trees. Second is that the character design of Jonny is unique in his world. All of the rest of the characters would be equally at home in a story about Tintin or Tozo or Julius Chancer (Rainbow Orchid). But Jonny stands out almost as a silhouette. I think it works decidedly in McClaine's favor, as the reader can more easily see themselves in the protagonist. While the character does stand out, his visual resemblance to a skeleton identifies him as the true everyman -- he's been stripped of everything that marks him as a unique individual to what we all have in common. (Curiously, stripping all of his unique features in a world where those features are not normally stripped away makes him just as unique as everyone else!)

The opening (and current) storyline is called "Dead Man at Devil's Cove" and has been running since late 2004. It serves as an introduction to all the characters and does an excellent job of presenting them and their relationships. The plot moves along briskly, but it doesn't seem overly rushed, showcasing McClaine's good sense of pacing. So while the comparisons to Hergé will largely be more geared towards the ligne clair, they will also be apt with regards to the overall approach. Fortunately, though, McClaine's is a different enough type of story that it doesn't feel like he's trampling on Hergé's grave or trying to ride on his coattails. He took notes from the man, but isn't copying from him.

My understanding is that the first two chapters have been printed in pamphlet form, but I can find no real evidence of this. I can only find one oblique reference McClaine makes to the first chapter being printed, and one database that suggests the books' publication -- although no one seems to have any actual concrete information about them.

With that said, you're probably best off reading what's been posted online. Due to his apartment building flooding and the subsequent green-lighting of his and Javier Grillo-Marxuach's The Middleman as a TV series for ABC, he hasn't made any story updates since late 2007. That should give you guys plenty of time to catch up on the latest adventures of Jonny Crossbones...
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