Pullbox Reviews: TKO’s 7 Deadly Sins Offers Real Grit

Writer:  Tze Chun

Artist:  Artyom Trakhanov

Color Artist:  Giulia Brusco

Letterer:  Jared K. Fletcher

Editor:  Sebastian Girner

Publisher:  TKO Presents

Available:  In both Collected Trade ($19.99) and 6-Issue Boxed ($29.99) versions, from tkopresents.com

‘Kayso, having watched Quentin Tarantino’s films for the past 30-odd years or so now, it’s become increasingly obvious to me that the man really just wanted a career in the comic book industry writing comics, but through some cruel quirk of fate, ended up stuck making movies.  Maybe he got roped into the trade by a family member, an ambitious high school drama teacher, whatever.  Either way, the poor guy’s trapped in a golden cage.  So alas, here we are: instead of a litany of great if violent comics written by one of the more interesting minds of his generation, we instead have a bunch of highly entertaining, if violent movies by one of the better filmmakers of his generation.  We’ll just have to make do, I guess.

Tze Chun, on the other hand, has been able to do what QT hasn’t: in addition to being a successful silver screen auteur, he also, finally, has been able to satisfy his obvious life-long dream: he’s made (with a particularly talented group of friends) a really good and really, really violent Wild West-themed comic book.  And co-founded an entire comic publishing company, to boot.  Eat your heart out, Tarantino.

In 7 Deadly Sins, Chun’s freshman foray into comic writing, we’ve got (as Paul wrote in his review of Issue One here) as dark, as violent and as unredemptive a group of death row killers as you’d find in the grittiest of Tarantino’s films…or Leonne’s or Eastwood’s, for that matter.  Set in Texas in 1867 in the aftermath of the Civil War, each character’s story is reflective of one of the seven deadly sins (look to Paul’s review for a detailed account of each character and their associated sin); suffice to say that each murderer’s tale is more haunting than the last.  And each is rooted in our nation’s not-so-pleasant treatment of minorities and those of “different” backgrounds of the era (and, you know, since). 

The story, over its six issues, tracks the primary tale of the origin of adopted child Grace and the orphans of Threadgill Mission, and padre Antonio’s quest to right the wrongs of their history—wrongs that have resulted in a savage war perpetrated by Comanche war chief Black Cloud upon white settlements of the area.  As the story evolves, we are treated via flashback to bits and pieces of each character’s history, and the personal trials that have led to their association with their particular sin.

I’ll tell you right now, this is not a book for the kiddies.  Mature themes, language and imagery abound, and none of it’s pretty, in word or image.  Fans of Tarantino’s Hateful Eight, Henry Hathaway’s True Grit or John Sturges’ Magnificent Seven and works of that ilk will thoroughly enjoy themselves…but expect a bit of a psychological bloodletting.  The action is brutal, the dialogue harsh and powerful, the themes unabashed in their indictment of America’s history and treatment of “others”—though to be clear, Chun is not pounding you over the head with moralism; he’s just not pulling any punches in portraying the Wild West for what it really was.

Oh, and Chun is a helluva writer, too.  The various primary and secondary tales are woven into and among each other masterfully, none overtaking or clouding the other, and all are gripping.  As Paul pointed out in his review, we’ve got a cast that offers up few if any “good guys,” instead a whole lot of degrees of gray (trending toward pitch black)…other than perhaps the child Grace herself.  Yet you can’t help but find yourself rooting for each of them as they approach their end.

The writing can be all kinds of great, but the reality in a graphic medium is that if the art doesn’t pull its weight, the book won’t work.  Thankfully, Artyom Trakhanov handles his task more than capably.  His style on Sins is very interesting—almost a blend of old-school Judge Dredd and Groo the Wanderer, but a little less cartoony and more graphic.  Characters are presented each with an exaggerated feature, and all with a kind of frenetic intensity that paces the subject matter well.  I believe the choice to divert from the hyper-realistic styles popular today was a good one—make the gore too realistic, and the story becomes all about the horror of the viscera, and Chun’s story has much more to offer us than that.

It’s fairly uncommon that the color of a book stands out as a quality in and of itself: like the bass in a rock group, it’s typically essential but nigh-unnoticed—except when it’s done poorly.  It is absolutely appropriate that Giulia Brusco is listed as “color artist” in Sins, however: her colors are exactly that—art, in and of themselves.  Again and again throughout all six issues I found myself pausing just to take in the richness and depth of her choices.  The range of palettes she employs to differentiate each character’s backstory flashbacks, the explosions of color in the action scenes, the subtlety of infusing just enough red or blue in a facial expression to accentuate mood without overdoing it and appearing maudlin—all masterful.  And given Trakhanov’s unique style and Chun’s subject matter, it needed to be that good for this book to work.  Truly a marriage made in…well, I guess closer to hell than heaven, but you get the point.

And without doubt, Jared Fletcher’s lettering is every bit a part of that relationship.  Dialogue is neat and well-placed as one would expect, but the sound effects are creatively employed, typically integrating into and amplifying the art, blending image and sound into the reader’s experience.  Truly, his and Brusco’s work should be used as primers for nascent artists, working their way into the field.

Now, as awesome a book as 7 Deadly Sins is—and it is seriously good—the entire TKO line and their approach to publishing and selling comics is just as strong.  Industry leading writers and artists publishing their own creator-owned books via direct marketing and sales, avoiding middle-man distributors and publishers.  You get to choose the format you prefer (traditional single-issue comics or full-book trades), and everything is top-of-the-line.  The books (at least the comics) are slightly larger than standard format, and the paper used is a heavier stock—meaning a more substantial and luxurious product.  And the matte finish of the paper, teamed with the high-quality inks TKO employs, make for an incredibly attractive book.  Win-win for both creator and consumer; not really sure I can compliment these folks enough on what they’ve built.

Those interested can purchase 7 Deadly Sins (and all of the TKO products) via the TKO website, tkopresents.com, in both a Collected Trade ($19.99) and 6-Issue Boxed ($29.99) editions.  Or if you’re unwilling to take my word for it (I’ll do my best not to be offended), as an extra-special super-duper bonus until they decide not to do it anymore (so act quick!), you can currently get digital copies of the first issue of all of their titles for free, to try them out first.

Really wish they’d try that technique at the sushi restaurant I eat at…

Oh yeah—and I was kidding about the whole Tarantino thing: pretty sure he likes comics, but absolutely certain he was always meant to make films.

Score: 12.5 (of 13)

Review by Andy Patch, thePullbox.com

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