Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Reads You Review: STRAY BULLETS Free Comics Day Books


CARTOONIST: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham with Janet Jackson
48pp, B&W, Free

I have never attended Free Comic Book Day (FCBD).  This is the annual event in which comic book stores welcome potential new customers by offering free comics that have been specifically created for that day.  Sometimes, I have visited the two comic book stories that I usually frequent close enough to FCBD to pick up some leftover FCBD comic books.

Sometimes, I get a few leftovers from Mile High Comics if I make an order close to FCBD.  That may be how I received Stray Bullets Free Comics Day Book from the 2002 installment of FCBD.  Stray Bullets Free Comics Day Book reprints Stray Bullets #2 (April 1995).

Stray Bullets is an independent American comic book series written and drawn by David Lapham.  The series is published in black and white with color covers by El Capitan Books, an independent publishing firm founded by Lapham and his wife, Maria Lapham.

The first issue of Stray Bullets was published with a March 1995 cover date, the beginning of an irregular publishing schedule through the publication of its 40th in 2005 (November 2005 cover date).  After a hiatus, Stray Bullets recently returned with a 41st issue, a new miniseries (Stray Bullets: The Killers), and an omnibus paperback collecting issues #1 to 40 (Stray Bullets Uber Alles Edition).

Each issue of Stray Bullets features a self-contained story that takes place in a time period ranging from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s.  The stories deal with the criminal and sometimes tragic misadventures of a large cast of characters or, as Lapham writes, “the lost lives of people who are savagely torn apart by events beyond their control.”

Stray Bullets #2 opens in Baltimore, Maryland during the summer of 1977.  At a theatre showing Star Wars, two hood-types, Manny and “Spanish” Scott, wait for Georgie.  What results is shocking, sudden, and brutal.  Witnessing it all is Virginia “Ginny” Applejack, and what Ginny sees changes her.  Her altered attitude or personality fully reveals itself at school, leaving her parents, Tom and Celia Applejack, confused.  But the “stray bullet” that altered Ginny’s life is not through with her.

This is the first time that I have ever read Stray Bullets, but not the first time that I’ve read comics produced by David Lapham.  As much as I’ve enjoyed Lapham’s work, I simply never got around to reading Stray Bullets, although, over the past two decades or so, I have noticed the acclaim that the series has received and how popular it has been with readers.  Now, I am a fan.

I like Stray Bullets’ concept or conceit – the idea that people can be hurt, wounded, and even destroyed by events that have nothing to do with them or were not meant to involve them.  The characters are essentially collateral damage or are the victims of metaphorical stray bullets – bad things not intended for them.

What makes this concept stick is Lapham’s character writing.  He has a knack for using small amounts of dialogue and action to make us care about the characters’ actions, even if we ultimately know very little about them.  The sudden violence is not gratuitous; rather, it is powerful.

I always wondered if Stray Bullets was merely a comic book rip-off of the ensemble crime film, Pulp Fiction.  Instead, Stray Bullets is its own ensemble crime fiction.  So getting Stray Bullets Free Comics Day Book was a good thing.

But that’s not all, folks.  Stray Bullets Free Comics Day Book is a flip book.  Turn this comic book over, and there is another story.  “There Are No Flowers in the Real World” is a comic book short story set in the universe of the film, The Matrix (1999).  Lapham produced the comic for the website,  The story is trademark Lapham, with its string of unintended consequences, random bad luck, and a gut-wrenching/gut-check ending.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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