Sunset is the first graphic novel from Minotaur Press, an imprint of Top Cow, and is a collection of the Sunset comic book series. The name Sunset refers to the novel’s protagonist, an aging mob enforcer in the sunset years of his life. Christos Gage, the novel’s creator, was apparently keen to write a comic in the new genre which has been christened ‘Geezer Noir’- think Gran Torino, The Limey, that kind of thing. Art is by Jorge Lucas.
Sunset is one of those comics which reads really well. The layout is so intuitive and well-planned that for the most part, you’re basically reading a film. Jorge Lucas’ quasi-photographic artwork fully supports this, and I think the decision to leave the comic in monochrome also helps to add depth- giving a finished product which is uncomplicated, easy on the eye, and ultimately just looks right. Added to this, it complements the subject matter; the protagonist, Nick Bellamy, is living in a world which is becoming unfamiliar, and when the reader sees it in black and white, it’s as if they are looking through Bellamy’s outdated eyes.
The concept isn’t strikingly original: an old veteran uses his wealth of combat experience to become an otherwise unlikely hero. So saying, it’s by no means a tired theme, and it makes very compelling reading- as is pointed out in the foreword by Duane Swierczynski. The characters are likewise compelling, and fairly well written- although that same monochrome which makes the world seem so appropriate makes them more distant and less recognizable. I feel like I could have spent more time getting to know Nick Bellamy, and got a lot more out of the character that way.
Ultimately, I think Sunset’s biggest strength- its beautiful, cinematic pages which read so well- is also its biggest weakness. I couldn’t help but feel that my eye was rushed through the novel, never allowed to linger for a minute or two. Coupled with the inscrutability of monochrome facial expressions, this left me disconnected from the characters I was so ready to enjoy. Perversely, it seems as though Sunset worked better in individual installments than it does in a collected form, because the forced pause between one issue and the next slowed the experience down.
That said, there is a lot of fun to be had in this series, which combines some gritty, lifelike violence with a real sense of humour- and reading it in its collected form does have its perks. The collection includes a lot of bonus material- character designs, proposals, etc- which really are worth having a look at.
To sum up
Overall, I’d recommend the Sunset series to old-school comic fans, who’re used to picking up their weekly dose at the store for a dollar. I think it’s the best way to enjoy the story, and it’s definitely the way Nick Bellamy would do it- as Duane says in the foreword, “if you’re reading this on any kind of device, Nick would probably punch you in the throat”. Sunset is a great series, but try reading it the old-fashioned way- after all, some things never go out of style.