Punks Not Dead #1
Written by David Barnett
Art by Martin Simmonds and Dee Cunniffe
Lettering by Aditya Bidikar
Published by IDW Publishing/Black Crown
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Some kids get a pet as a companion. In the case of Feargal Ferguson, he’s got the ghost of a dead punk rocker named Sid. Yet that unorthodox pairing is what gives Punks Not Dead both its heart and its sense of potential, as writer David Barnett and artist Martin Simmonds bring a sardonic but beautifully rendered take on their leading odd couple. And while this series is still building its momentum, its artwork and its ghostly co-lead make this debut Black Crown’s best offering yet.
There’s a lot going on in “Fergie” Ferguson’s life, to the point where adding an undead provocateur almost seems like overkill - Barnett jumps from concept to concept with this debut issue, but I’d argue that nothing feels quite as potent as his very first scene, as we see Fergie getting coached by the ghostly Sid, just before his prep school’s resident meathead pounds him to a pulp. In that regard, Barnett has the right instincts, both setting up Fergie’s stakes as well as establishing his arc as one of stepping up from the morass of teenage mediocrity, and as a routine stop to an airport bathroom leads Fergie to meet Sid, it’s easy to see where their dynamic might lead.
But beyond this solid core, it can’t help but feel like there might be too much going on elsewhere. Fergie’s growing up in a single-parent household, where his mother uses him to con tabloid magazines and daytime talk shows - which feels like the sort of thing that could anchor an entire series, rather than be essentially brushed aside after a few pages. Meanwhile, we’re also introduced to MI-5’s Department of Extra-Usual Affairs, where new agent Asif Baig is instructed to report to Dorothy Culpepper, a foul-mouthed, mod-dressing magical troubleshooter who gets all of Barnett’s best lines. While the inclusion of magical law enforcement makes sense, given that one of our lead characters is a ghost, it also throws off the balance of Barnett’s script, at times overshadowing us meeting Fergie and Sid, while at other times just slowing the momentum to a halt.
Yet the real find for Punks Not Dead has to be artist Martin Simmonds. Working from color flats from Dee Cunniffe, Simmonds’ style evokes that of Phil Noto and Mike Del Mundo, with an angularity and sense of color that will undoubtedly define this book’s run. It’s Simmonds that also delivers this book’s best moments, including Sid walking through the walls of the airport bathroom, with wisps of words trailing in his wake, or a lovely use of an almost all-white page as Fergie unexpectedly stands up to a bully. Simmonds also does some stellar work with Agent Culpepper holding up an unearthly beast, with some gorgeous concentric circles in the background that give the scene some major pop. That said, Simmonds can’t help but buckle under some of Barnett’s wordier pages - there are a lot of pages that try to fit in seven or eight panels, and those pages can’t help but feel squashed, even with Simmonds trying some unorthodox methods to space them out.
With its boy-meets-ghost story, Punks Not Dead already feels like the strongest of the Black Crown line-up, perhaps because it is also the most accessible. Many people, fairly or not, compare Black Crown to Shelly Bond’s legendary work at Vertigo, and I’d argue that most of that line’s most successful works were high concepts that one could boil down easily that later went in directions you couldn’t expect. When one takes into consideration the strengths of the lead characters, as well as the phenomenal art style, it’s easy to see how this book could follow in those footsteps - but the ultimate test for Punks Not Dead will be to see whether its various narrative detours wind up becoming added value or just more noise to distract.