I’ve read some trippy stuff in my day, but nothing comes close to Pop Gun War. It’s urban tragedy meets Alice in Wonderland, where dwarves become larger than life and an angel’s garbage becomes a young boy’s salvation. The story is riddled with metaphors and double meanings, and the artwork is avant-garde with a splash of crazy. And the weirdest thing about this? I actually liked it.
The first exposure to the whimsy of the book is the title itself. “Pop Gun War” is really just a way of describing the struggles of childhood, especially on your own in the big city. The real title is “Gift”, which refers to a pair wings sawed off by an angel and thrown in the garbage. Our main character, a black boy named Sinclair, finds them and straps them on his back using tape. After watching his musically gifted sister in a club preparing to perform, he helps a homeless man being attacked before being chased off by the neighborhood kids. Sinclair gets cornered on the edge of a cliff, where he falls but is miraculously saved by angels’ wings, literally. His new “gift” is unusual and is only utilized as a substitute for the boy’s bicycle, rather than showing them off or as an advantage over bullies. There is so much in this trade paperback that I’d end up spoiling it for you if I tried to describe it all, but there are many quirky characters who have strange motivations. Most notably is the dwarf in a suit and top hat out to rescue his giant floating goldfish with eyeglasses from the creepy hissing man with the beard. I’m not kidding when I said it was some crazy sh…
It is a testament to the creator Farel Dalrymple that something as off-the-wall as this is successful as a cohesive piece of fiction. There are moments throughout that are seemingly random and unrelated, but somehow tie into the bigger picture, if only by a thematic similarity. There is no real “villain” because Sinclair is not a hero, but there are those of questionable character who make life difficult for our protagonists. The art is heavy on inked linework, with a sketchbook quality to it that is reminiscent of childhood doodles. Dalrymple details the city well, paying great attention to Sinclair’s room and layouts of settings in general. Aside from a handful of colored splash pages of Sinclair flying, the entire book is in black and white. I feel like a real opportunity was missed by neglecting to color this, due to the surreal nature of the story, but the decision is not entirely a bad one.
The dream-like theme of the story is one that plagues the reader throughout the experience of Pop Gun War. Is any of this real? Is all of it? How much is just in Sinclair’s head? The direction this book takes is not a novel one, what with stories like Through the Looking Glass and The Wizard of Oz having fantastic creatures and unrealistic events. The difference is that those have a definitive “real” world versus the “dream” world. This comic tale does not, which makes for an incredibly immersive reading experience. I normally don’t like using half stars, but Pop Gun Wars falls between “Good” and “Great” for me, and that is a very fine line.
Better than Good, 3.5 out of 5 Stars.
Story By: Farel Dalrymple
Art By: Farel Dalrymple
Cover By: Farel Dalrymple