Do you remember the first time you fell?
The first time you fell in love with a person, or fame, or even just an
idea? If you do, did you fly, or crash and burn?
If you don't, then pick up "Vertical".
Vertigo, the literary imprint of DC Comics, has just taken the plunge,
quite literally, in "Vertical", a new self-contained graphic novel written
by Steven Seagle (who also wrote Vertigo's earlier "House of Secrets").
This is a comic unique in both storytelling and style; instead of being
standard size, the book is 8.5cm wide and 26 cm high, and features a
foldout cover which runs over the top, depicting the descent of the two
main characters down the outside of the Empire State Building.
One of those characters, Brando Bale, works at Andy Warhol's Factory in
Soho, and in his spare time dives off buildings to land on a variety of
impromptu mattresses, from Zillo boxes filled with junk to a dumpster, all
in an attempt to find redemption. Zilly Kane comes to the Factory in
response to one of Warhol's adverts, finding herself in a long queue
waiting for an audition. When Brando swings a favour for the
biding-her-time Zill, he unwittingly unleashes a voice within both their
heads. Brando sees the ghost of his lover, Lona, a black woman whom he not
only kept from his white father, but who he accidentally killed. Zilly
hears the voice of her father who swore to ignore her if she left for New
York to seek her fifteen minutes of fame.
What keeps "Vertical" from being just another pop culture reference-laden
comic? Partly it's the exquisite way Seagle draws out the inner worlds of
his two characters though these almost schizophrenic voices in their head
respective heads. Mostly it's the way Seagle neatly undermines the Warhol
dictum of fame (you know, the whole "fifteen minutes" thing) and the
mythology surrounding him and his art. Brando searches for Andy himself
through the book, finding him only when he has completed his final,
redemptive leap. Zilly finds herself in the predictably long line of
wannabes waiting for their turn at the proverbial fifteen minutes, but she
finds a man who allows her to jump the queue. Those familiar with Warhol's
work and the influences he had might well wonder if she was based on Mary
Woronov (an actress who was given her start by Warhol, best known for an
array of Indy films and TV guest shots these days), or if she was simply
another passer-by in the Factory. We don't know either way, but Seagle
peels back the petals of the black-lit rose that is the Factory and its
mythos with "Vertical" though Brando and Zilly's almost symbolically
self-referential experiences in Warhol's world. The deconstruction is such
that there is no sense that everybody within those walls would
automatically become famous or even lauded by the 'cognoscenti' by the
sheer fact of being at and around Warhol's Factory. These hangers-on aren't
even portrayed as simple star-f[il]kers seeking famy by proxy. Instead,
Seagle presents us with the portrayal of a select few who put together
films at the behest of (and in the style of) Andy Warhol, despite his not
actually being present. Seagle's version of the Factory is a factory of
creation, branded under a copyright that is far more powerful that any
registered, a creative collection of human cogs driven by their own
individual passions and needs. In this Factory, each person can, and very
often does, speak their own mind and display their own beliefs. Sometimes
they even act like complete children, as adults are all too often wont to do.
It is so refreshing to see the Factory portrayed for what it was: a hive of
individual creation and a sometime haven of lost souls. But Seagle's comic
is more than a revision of Andy Warhol and his cultural influence.
"Vertical" also has a larger agenda in how it portrays the antithesis of
the hippy philosophy: there are folks within that building who are willing
to put themselves to the test and to find themselves through their own
actions. It is only when Brando and Zilly face their own final tests, away
from the Factory, that each can face their own inner voices and overcome
their demons. You can almost hear the Velvet Underground in the background
as Zilly waits for her man and avoids all of tomorrow's parties whilst
Brando, not necessarily sticking the spike into his arm, searches for his
white light by plunging off the sides of buildings.
Seagle, as well as being a fine writer in his own right, joins the growing
number of comics writers like Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis who are taking
the form in new and exciting directions, merging the metaphysical with the
mundane in a fashion both literary and intensely entertaining. He quite
literally takes a dangerous plunge with this book, and it's highly
recommended to anyone looking for something different from all the
deconstructionist faux-nostalgia that usually colours such explorations of