In May 1967, Jimi Hendrix held a concert in Helsinki. It only lasted for half an hour, but it made a lasting impression on the Finnish music scene – so much so that a lot of folks who weren’t there claim to have been. Hasse Walli, a renowned Finnish guitarist, later said that the budding guitarists who actually attended the concert divided into two camps: those who quit instantly, and those who began training furiously to be as good as Hendrix was.
Now, I’m no comic book artist, but I’d say that JP Ahonen’s art in Perkeros is the graphic equivalent of Jimi Hendrix. It’s only in Finnish for now, but I’m hoping that someone translates it soon to other languages – thus this blog post, so I can do my part.
Perkeros, which saw the light of day just recently, is a comic book by JP Ahonen and KP Alare; Ahonen is the illustrator but they’ve both written it. It’s about a guy called Akseli, who has his own avant-garde heavy metal band, whose other members are a regular-lish girl playing the keyboards, an old hippie guy on the bass and a real, live, honest-to-Black-Sabbath bear pounding the drums like nobody’s business. The comic book mostly follows Akseli in his efforts to make the band a success, to make sense out of his relationship and of his life altogether. There are also some occult elements afoot, although the general tone of the book is very light-hearted.
The story is good. It might even be great: I dug the characters, the dialogue, the music references, the occult elements, the whole shebang. But it’s kind of hard to talk about it because, as I said before, visually the comic book is fucking Jimi Hendrix. You can take a look at the previews here and here, but the samples really don’t convey how beautifully it all flows from page to page. It might even be really superfluous to separate the visuals and the story, because they support and riff off of each other.
The visuals aren’t there (only) to brag, but they’re carefully constructed to follow and emphasise the story. The story is mostly presented in the traditional square-panel form, but Ahonen really knows when to break it. The best examples are the concert scenes where the graphics and colours go six kinds of nuts, and it really feels like someone pulls off an amazing solo that takes you someplace else. Only you’re not hearing it, you’re seeing it on the pages of a comic book. The comic is not only about the story and the characters, but the power of music, and it’s really stupefying how it’s possible to convey the power of music in a silent medium.
Visually Perkeros reminds me of lots of masters of comic books. Bill Watterson for the wild page layouts; Don Rosa and Uderzo for the love of background details; Dave Gibbons for the layouts and the mastery of geometry; and the sucky band at the beginning feels very much like when Stinky got his own band Peter Bagge’s work. But it’s still distinctively Ahonen’s own style, and he is equally at home with rigid geometrical compositions as with zany cartoony slapstick.
It also feels like Ahonen very much knows what Scott McCloud is talking about the art form in Understanding Comics (to be fair, it’s been too long since I read it); but he is far beyond theory and Perkeros feels nothing like a master’s thesis whose purpose is to show what the author is capable of. Ahonen knows his art form, and what it can convey, and how it can support the story and the themes visually. The drawings and the colours aren’t simply illustrations for the story – they’re an integral part of the work of art. They express something the words alone can’t.
I know this isn’t much of a critique, more like a rave review whose purpose is to promote the comic, bring Ahonen & Alare money, and make it available in other languages. I’ll save more critical observations for subsequent readings and more erudite critics. I’m not entirely sure that all of the occult elements towards the end were thematically necessary, but they make for some killer art. I’ll have to see about their place in the whole when I read it again.
(Full disclosure: I know the artist, not very closely, tough, but I’m not trying to get into his pants. I expected good stuff, but the reason I’m writing a rave review is because Perkeros exceeded my expectations in every way.)