I’m a latercomer to the world of comics and graphic novels. It’s odd, really, because I knew some great cartoonists, comic book artists and enthusiasts growing up in New Zealand. Some of them went on to own comic book stores, some produced some great independent comics, and one even ended up doing Judge Dredd and winning all sorts of awards. Smart and admirable people, the lot of them.

I’d read some comics, of course – but I didn’t really pay attention to them until I was in my 40s. I liked the odd Calvin & Hobbes strip – and the Far Side, of course – but these were gags that stood alone. Not books, as such. As for those, there’d been two main types for me – ones I didn’t have the patience for (too heavy), and ones I wasn’t interested in anyway (too light). I guess I became more patient over time, and that patience eventually gets rewarded.

I’m still not really what you’d call an enthusiast (though my interest is increasing), but I’ve read a couple of things. Obvious stuff, mostly: Watchmen, The Invisibles… and I started reading some online comics, particularly the work of fellow kiwi Dylan Horrocks, whose web comic The Magic Pen has been engrossing. In fact, I’ve been far more drawn to comics and graphic novels than I have to regular fiction in recent years. Novels, generally speaking, just seem so linear by comparison.

Comics have pictorial depth that can ‘paint a thousand words’ in an instant. A single frame can convey all sorts of different emotions, subtext, clues and development that would take prose pages to describe. They refer across the text and intertextually, rather than just move the story along, and done well, I think they have more in common with poetry – with their interest in metaphor, personal revelation and teasing out universal meanings from small particulars.

From The Physics Engine

The thing I love about Horrocks’s work – apart from the fact that it is so relatable (similar age and social circles – we know some of the same people and places) is that he is first a writer – in the sense that he understands stories and how they work on us. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that most of his work centres on the act of storytelling and the way in which we make sense of ourselves through that act. His comics are stories about stories, and they’re stories about how people are.

I follow Dylan on Twitter, and this past week, he made reference to a torrent website on which someone had posted scans of his 10-issue series ‘Pickle’ (an 11th issue is unpublished). Instead of reacting negatively, he was delighted that his work was being shared and read – and thanked the person who posted it for taking the trouble to scan and upload it all.

All in all, a sane, measured response by someone who had all the usual excuses to be irrational and angry about the world, technology and the moral fibre of society at large. And so, I downloaded the series, and have just finished reading them. Astonishing stuff.

From Pickle #4 – and coincidentally, also a building I actually lived in for several years in the late 90s.

People who know what they’re talking about have called Pickle “one of the most important comics coming out these days” and Horrocks “one of the true geniuses of comic books”… and I can see why.

Of course, having now had this experience of his work in depth makes me want to read (and own) more of his stuff, and I will no doubt buy some of his work (his “All Hail Ellie – Destroyer of Worlds” collaboration with novelist Emily Perkins particularly intrigues me) – but perhaps more importantly, this has kindled and reinforced an interest in the medium itself, and I’m keen to explore that a little more.

I’m not going to instantly become a massive fan of comics overnight, but I will dig deeper into this world and find out what other kinds of stories exist here. This experience didn’t just make me more of a fan of Dylan – it made me more of a fan of comics.

And I think this is one of the most interesting facets of the whole filesharing debate – here in the world of comics, sure, but perhaps especially when it comes to music. It’s not about who downloads this record, or that record – or whether they buy a particular music recording – but about a growing relationship with music, its appreciation, and the importance it can have in your life.

Dylan Horrocks on piracy

At any rate – with Dylan’s blessing, you can download his work without paying for it. Perhaps it’ll spark in you the same interest it sparked in me. If not, perhaps it wasn’t for you in the first place. But as a fan, now – I want to say “check this out – it’s awesome” – and introduce you to the work of Dylan Horrocks, and the storytelling possibilities of comics.

Download Pickle (Rapidshare link)

Read more of Dylan’s work at Hicksville Comics.