The Adventures of Joe Bleak

Joe Bleak by Ken Bastard

Joe Bleak is the rugged, dirty, whiskey drinking, cigarette smoking son of a bitch that you and I wish we could be. He isn’t someone you necessarily look up to, but is someone you respect, and maybe even fear.  It is for this reason that I was excited to get into The Adventures of Joe Bleak.  As a fan of comic noir and gritty story telling, Joe Bleak seemed like the guy for me.

The Adventures of Joe Bleak is a collection of diverse short stories spanning from World War 2 to a twisted futuristic version of our own reality.  Each story is prefaced with an introduction about what inspired and influenced the short which helps give a little background into what the creator was thinking.

I’m not usually a fan of collections that have a number of shorts that aren’t related.  I prefer shorts to interweave with the main story to add depth and characterization.  However, these introductions serve as a way to tie each story to the creator, connecting them through him and what he was experiencing at the time.  I was pleasantly surprised by how they helped create a more cohesive experience for me throughout the collection.  I never felt like I was abruptly jumping from story to story.  I felt as if I was smoothly being guided through random, but important, events in Joe’s life. Perhaps to try to understand his greater purpose.

Each short provides us more insight into what its like to be the rough and tough Joe Bleak.  Because each story is its own, you get to see Joe in large variety of different situations despite it only being one small collection.  Even with such a variety of stories Joe’s character and the noir tone of the comics stay consistent and really allow you to see a few different sides of an otherwise mysterious character.

If you have ever read any type of short story collection you know that a lot of times each individual story can be hit or miss.  Often times the collection as a whole will not hold up to individual tales told within.  The Adventures of Joe Bleak is not one of these collections.  The cohesiveness and connection you feel to both Joe and the creator as he guides you along may be the collections greatest strength and one of the things that distinguish it from other comics like it.

The art is a lot like Joe himself:  gritty and rough around the edges.  It also changes slightly from short to short.  The introductions explain some of the different techniques used and help draw attention to the differences for the untrained eye.  As someone who knows nothing about drawing, I found these little tidbits of information interesting.  They also enhanced the connection I felt towards the creator, in turn, increasing the connection I felt towards Joe.   There is also a black and white short that serves as a great contrast to the rest of the shorts and really features the artiest skill.  The shadows and penciling, colored or not, truly capture the noir feel that the creator is striving for.

Sadly, these shorts do not connect in any way other then Joe’s presence.  Joe has immense potential as character, and I would have loved to see in him in a full feature story.   When all is said and done, The Adventures of Joe Bleak is a great comic collection that is easy to pick up and get into for long time comic fans and new readers just looking to get into a short story to pass the time.

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