Just when you thought you were safe from Thomas Joyce, here he is again! This time, Thomas has reviewed a comic written by Chris Kelso and illustrated by Jim Agpalza and he has decided to share his thoughts with you-fine followers of beavisthebookhead.com
Thanks, as always, to Thomas for reading and reviewing this fantastic sounding comic. Links to purchase are below. I hope you enjoy!
Apollo Unbound – Chris Kelso. Illustrated by Jim Agpalza
Scottish writer Chris Kelso has always wanted to add a graphic novel to his growing list of publications. With wonderfully evocative illustrations from American artist Jim Agpalza (who is responsible for the cover of Kelso’s 2014 novel from Bizarro Pulp Press, Terence, Mephisto, and Viscera Eyes, as well as Brian Allen Carr’s Motherfucking Sharks (Lazy Fascist Press, 2013) and Nicholas Day’s Necrosaurus Rex (Bizarro Pulp Press, 2015) as well as many others) and a surreal yet entertaining story, Apollo Unbound is a dream realised.
Kelso draws inspiration from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound: A Lyrical Drama in Four Acts, something he openly admits to from the outset in the opening three panels, accompanied by Agpalza’s fantastic renditions of a damp and depressing Scottish urban landscape. Living in the west of Scotland, I can attest to the authenticity of these images. Indeed, I would have to say that, unless the artist has visited Scotland, Kelso must have provided photographs. Even so, the way he captures the graffiti-covered building and the detritus of human rubbish amongst the trees is remarkable.
As is his depiction of the filthy lodgings and surrounding area of Kelso’s main character, Oscar-winning actor, Apollo Calloway, who awakens in this strange place, unsure of how he got there. When he realises he isn’t in a “Four Seasons or his Malibu estate” he takes a look out the window and guesses he may be in a third world country! So begins his nightmarish journey through the daily life of a housing estate in Ayrshire, as narrated by an omnipresent and dispassionate male voiceover, always out of shot, but depicted by an image of a haggis.
The supporting cast includes Larry Ferguson, a local man who shares a very funny scene with Apollo where he tries to recall where he has seen the famous movie star before and who offers his friendship. There is also Sheila Grant, the kind lady who does Apollo’s laundry for him, and the McLeans, a mother and daughter who confront Apollo at the beginning, causing him to flee to the safety of the dingy flat where he awoke. Kelso delivers rich and full characters which, although to be expected from such an accomplished author, is no mean feat given the short length of the graphic novel.
Kelso ramps up the surrealism in act two as Apollo seems to have come to terms with life on the housing estate. He seems to be suffering from depression and an identity crisis as he wonders if he ever was a famous movie star, or if he dreamt it. He has succumbed to the lifestyle, and even adopted some of the native language. But after a visit from council representatives, Apollo rails against God, spurring him into action. But, when given the opportunity to return to his high-flying lifestyle by turning on a seemingly innocent friend, will Apollo continue his quest against the higher power? Or will he take the easy way out?
Fans of Kelso’s previous work may see this as something of a departure, but we know by now that he is not a writer to be confined and defined by a single genre or style. The bleak storyline and grim setting are perfectly complimented by Agpalza’s wonderfully detailed art, which, despite the subject matter, is beautiful in its own strange way. Some readers unfamiliar with Scottish culture may not fully appreciate a couple of the scenes (Larry suggesting he recognises Apollo from Scottish soap opera Take the High Road was especially funny), but it doesn’t detract from the overall story.
Personally, I am only vaguely aware of the story of Prometheus Unbound, so cannot say to what extent the graphic novel is similar to that story. But as a blend of bleak social commentary and surreal social horror it certainly delivers. Kelso doesn’t hold back in his depiction of a Scottish housing scheme at the edge of society and lacking in human compassion. And some of the images portrayed by Agpalza are more haunting than some so-called horror movies from Hollywood. If you are looking for something a little different to whatever book you just read, but is all the more beautiful for it, check out Apollo Unbound. The marriage of Kelso’s quality prose and Agpalza’s intricate artwork is a match made in heaven. It’s surreal and it’s haunting. But, above all, it is a unique work of art that is unlike anything else I have read.
5/5 haggises from the Ayrshire Tourist Board
Pick up a copy from here.