Last night I had the absolute pleasure of attending the launch signing for brand new creator-owned comic Petrol Head #1, by Pye Parr (blow-you-away art/nigh-perfect design/fantastic everything) and Rob Williams (smooth as hell dialogue/wild story-wrangling/perfect melding of multiple-timelines-writing), and was privileged enough to spend a little time afterwards toasting Pye in company of some of his friends – comics professionals all.
I don’t think I can review this comic, under those circumstances. I’m lucky enough to work with Pye here and there – he did the covers for my novels Dog Country and Mouse Cage. I love his art, I love his colours, and working with him is a pleasure every time I have an opportunity to do so. There is absolutely no way, at all, I can have an unbiased opinion about Pye and his work. Ever. When it comes to his partner here, Rob Williams, I know very little except that he’s a comics professional with a career I’d die for – working on everything from 2000AD and Spider-Man to Star Wars and Indiana Jones. In short, my unfamiliarity with him crashing against the intimidating breadth of his experience combined with his slick script-work here combine to leave me completely unable to have a coherent opinion of his work here other than ‘wow’.
I cannot take a critical track on this book, at least not now, with the highs of attending the signing for the launch, with the glorious delirium of having just been introduced to a whole new world still rattling through my brain. Maybe one day, after I’ve digested it, figured out how on earth to apply my critical skills to tearing it apart and understanding it and finding where the flaws are, maybe then I can be critical.
Right now all I can do is feel like I’m a thirteen year old again, discovering ‘grown up’ comics for the first time. The complexity, the beauty, the love. My first comics were old Disneys and Archies, printed on pulp with simplistic art to make it easy to print. I read collections of Snoopy and Garfield. At some point, like so many others, I discovered marvel comics, but back then marvel comics were still pretty flat. Then I picked up some 2000AD and I did not get it. The way the stories are serialized means it’s almost impossible to pick up an issue and just settle into another world – I’d have to wait until I could collect a string of issues and read them together, flipping from one story to the next, being amazed at the fact art wasn’t just something accompanying the story, but something that often strained at the seams – the artists weren’t merely following a script, but were becoming partner-storytellers. They were taking scripts and becoming actor, camera-man, director. They were studying a story they’d been given and finding out what that story was, embodying it until they could take the story they’d been told and retell it with their own skill and drive and desire, adding more and more and more until the story that they were starting with was swollen with meaning and emotion and far, far more than a single creator could bring out on their own.
For a long, long time I wanted to draw comics. I wanted to write comics. Unfortunately I had one of those delayed development type motor-neurological issues, which on top of the standard dexterity issues in teenagers (limbs growing faster than the brain learns to guide them) meant I got discouraged and gave up on drawing in my teens. But I still wanted to make things. Gradually I came to writing, and I’ve had a couple of opportunities to write comic scripts on an amateur basis – writers who think they’re telling a story by themselves are fooling themselves. A comic writer is creating the bones of a story, and those bones are an incredibly important part of a comic book’s strength, but it is the artist who creates the flesh, the sinews, and it takes both working together to create a thing of grace and beauty and strength.
My experience of Petrol Head took the importance and beauty of all that stuff, of how being a creative works, of why it matters, rolled it up into about 42 pages and thrust it into my heart.
Every single page of Petrol Head #1 shows how much love has gone into the process. There are details in Pye’s backgrounds that show the lives in the backgrounds of the narrative, from someone pulling their kid out of the way to an almost lonely-seeming truck passing by on an elevated freeway that leaves me wondering if one of the protagonist Petrol Head’s old colleagues has been put to menial work after a robo-lifetime of extreme racing, and is driving, watching every lonely mile get added to the truck’s odometer while Petrol Head quietly and secretly rebuilds a racing Hot-Rod the dystopian authority that created him would now deactivate him for repairing. In the foreground, a hungry cat stalks the robotic bird Petrol Head built as a companion – only to get tazed, comic-bookishly flashing a skeleton which appears to be really bloody carefully referenced, if I know anything about cat skulls.
And in Rob Williams’ text and story flow, we sweep between a melancholy past and a future to be feared so smoothly it’s like we’ve lived it ourselves. The threatening robotic overseer O’s capriciousness becomes a natural exploration of how it (he?) has lain claim to and held power for decades. A metal-work rose, so beautiful it’ll fool you into thinking it’s real, placed at a monument to the near-extinct robo-racers becomes not merely the powerful gesture of melancholy and affection Pye’s art initially presents, but the moment we flip back to the comic’s opening pages after reading deeper it transforms into a weighty symbol of all that been lost – grief, a yearning for a free future that so many will never see. And it stands in near-perfect contrast to the final pages, where we see the first (we hope!) steps towards that free future, a better future, taken by Lupa, a scientist’s daughter desperate to save both her world and her injured father.
As Lupa says in the middle of Petrol Head #1 about her father, ‘That’s not the reason I love him. It’s because he has a good heart. He cares.’
I don’t love Petrol Head #1 because of the fantastic art, the fact it’s possible to pick up and read a story 2000AD only wishes it could produce because the creators have freed themselves from the constraints of 2000AD’s weekly 6-page serial format.
I love it because I know part of the team that put it together and understand a little bit of what went into creating it, I love it because the deeper I look – the longer I spend looking over backgrounds and drinking down every page like something to savor before flipping back and seeing how an action sequence reads if I race through the pages as fast as I can – the more I can see that the creators care about what they’re doing.
And I find that inspiring beyond words – but as you can tell, since words are my strongest medium, I tried putting down (more than) a few about that inspiration.
I can’t be critical about this comic, it was just too much fun to read. So, this isn’t a review.
It’s a recommendation.
Pye, Rob, if you read this – thank you for making something that I spent an absolutely fantastic day with today.
As for the rest of you, if you’d like to know more about Petrol Head (and check out the art because YOW it’s great), or even acquire a copy yourself, hit this link here -> https://www.petrolheadcomic.com/
If you’d like to read a great interview with the author, Rob Williams, conducted by another comics pro I was privileged to meet last night, Alec Worley, who manages to get some beautiful insights out of Rob, hit this link here -> https://alecworley.substack.com/p/full-throttle-fiction-q-and-a-with