Shiny Shelf


By Mark Clapham on 03 October 2008

Now, this one is interesting.
‘Contraband’ written by Thomas J Behe and illustrated by Phil Elliott (and another one from the neglected review copy pile – sorry Thomas!), is a near-future dystopian thriller about a subculture where clips of real life violence are obsessively (and profitably) made, watched and sold over the contraband, an illegal channel for snuff ’n’ stuff. Gangs of marauding happy slappers try to get the top-ranking clip, ex-soldiers live out the violent impulses their experiences have left them with, do-gooders protest and lobby parliament, while rewards are put out for the first clips of the protest leaders dead or injured.
It’s all very nasty and disturbingly plausible, tied together with the ‘Fight Club’ style, multi-layered narrative, skipping backwards and forward a couple of months between lead everyman Toby’s violent introduction to Contraband’s founders, and his subsequent attempts to get himself, and kidnapped ex-marine Charlotte, out again. Behe’s script is dense and didactic, but this is justified by the self-obsessed, traumatised egotists in his story, keen to blab and broadcast their every impulse to mobile users the world over, always in search of an audience, never interested in the fate of those used to up their hit counts. To his credit, Behe keeps the voices of all his characters distinct. It’s a very talky script, but as with the comics of Jonathan Hickman (‘The Nightly News’ etc) at least the characters have something interesting to say, without ever nailing down easy answers.
Elliott’s art suits the story, and is reminiscent of Steve Yeowell’s clear characterisation and open lines. In a story this talky, following the emotions of the various characters is key, and Elliott, aided by inks from Ian Sharman and tones from Cherie Donovan , delivers clear storytelling both in terms of character and plot.
This is a proper graphic novel, dense and detailed with strong characters and a powerful central idea. It may not be particularly appealing, but it is powerful and compelling.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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