‘McGil,’ 240 pages, Dark Horse
A REVIEW by Ric Moore
The ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ as a Western? In graphic novel format? How could such a great idea go so wrong? It’s not difficult to understand when you see the writing credit. W. Jeff Bishop hasn’t done much right in the comic book world since his genre-pushing glory days of ‘End of Ism.’ That early-90s heyday of top-rack status and massive pre-orders is far behind him, now, however and, by the looks of this latest jaunt, Bishop is getting no closer to finding his lost muse.
The graphic novel’s story begins in the desert, which is an appropriate metaphor for the work as a whole. McGil, an Irish gunslinger, searches for his lost kinsman, Inkidiyu, who is a Cherokee shaman in this version of the overworked Biblical-era tale. Latent homo-eroticism abounds, but that is not the problem (actually it is the one aspect of this jumbled tale that actually works). Right from the start, Bishop sandbags what should be a simple tale of love and loss with unnecessary and inflated “hero’s journey” underpinnings that render what should be a sublime tale of self-discovery into a stilted, pretentious mess. (Bishop, please take note: Joseph Campbell died in 1987. Let his Jungian-crazed psychobabble die with him.)
The story, such as it is, involves McGil reluctantly coming to the aid of some vaguely ethnic villagers, who are being terrorized by a “tree troll” who calls himself “Humbaba.” The names are different, but this is the same plot we’ve seen re-hashed again and again in everything from “Seven Samurai” to “A Bug’s Life.” I don’t even have to go into the particulars because you KNOW where this is going.
There are moments where the work dances around profundity — for instance when McGil visits the sprite with the lost Incan treasure on the edge of the desert — but Bishop can’t seem to be honest with himself when it comes to issues of mortality. It’s almost as if he can look into the abyss, creep up to its edge, but then think of nothing better to do than to spit. For $39.95, I expect more. From the writer of “End of Ism,” an incontrovertible turning point in the medium, we have every right to demand it.
But Bishop, like his protagonist, remains lost in his own creative desert. Like McGil, he’s shooting blanks in the darkness. And even the magnificent art of Bob Goodall, who has never been better than he is here, cannot make up for what is so sorely lacking in this, mankind’s oldest story.
As a former fan, I hope Bishop finds that lost muse again. But he hasn’t done so in this particular work. And with each passing attempt, I’m less optimistic that he ever will.
Wherever your bliss may be, you certainly won’t find it here.
Two stars (out of six)
I have a signed copy of this. I went to Golden Apple comics the day he was signing them. I made sure to get there early so I could get a good spot in line, and I ended up being the fifth person in line. I also ended up being the last person in line. This review may not have helped.
I did get to talk to him about the glory days “End of Ism,” and that was cool.
i think ric more sux no really i usually grok his revues but this one is totally off base i mean because end of ism was classic yeah but mcgil opened up new terratory for me it was just new only it wasn’t because of the way that jeff used the old gilgamest (sp?) story all over again and put it in the west and that part was okay but the best part was the going over the desert of death part where he had to use the wagon and pole and couldn’t touch the sand or die and i didn’t think mcgil and his friend inkidiu were gay or anything like that they just were good friends and look good with their shirts off theirs nothing gay about that i htink ric more is gay
Click for larger image.
Dude! This totally takes me back. I hadn’t thought about End of Ism for AGES. But check out what I found out on ebay. ORIGINAL pencil sketches for End of Ism pages. It’s the frickin’ GRAIL, dude. Check it out:
Enjoy! I sure wish WJB would get up off his ass and do more of THIS type of stuff as opposed to that faggoty-ass McGill shite! Rock on.
I think what’s wrong with McGil has everything to do with Bishops’s decision a couple of years ago to collaborate with other illustrators and no longer do his own visual realizations. There’s nothing holding his feet to the fire anymore. He’s at his best as a myth-maker when the ideas feed his images and vice versa. As a graphic artist, I think Bishop is perfectly fine, and why he hasn’t done anything visual since that 2004 limited edition of “A Course in Miracles: With Illustrations,” I don’t know. (I do know if you find a copy on the bargain table at Books-A-Million, snatch it up; there are some New York-based collectors of so-called “Bookish Millennialist New Age-iana” who will pay a pretty penny).
There’s that interview in “Gnosis” in which he made all these claims about how a one-month limited privilege membership at Gold’s Gym “changed my way of seeing and thinking for ever.” He claimed, perhaps with too much exuberance for his own good, that he was “the next Blake” and certainly got a great deal of flak from folks on various Human Potential Movement listservs, with some calling him “grandiose, paranoid, delusional,” etc. But I see no reason to dispute his claims. All he’s guilty of is calling a spade a spade. The power of the work bears it out. McGill was a blunder in calculation. Some kind of guilt probably compelled him to toss Goodall a bone on this one. When Bishop is drawing, he’s too busy to worry about whether or not his–again to quote the “Gnosis” interview–“Uncle Joe” (Campbell, naturally) is “pushing down” on his “backside.”