After two quiet years, the bimonthly anthology series known as Solo came to a close yesterday. It's too early to mourn it's unjust cancellation though--especially when it went out on such a high note. Brendan McCarthy hasn't done art for comic books in 13 years, choosing to make his daily bread in the film and television industry. (He's a cultish figure for his involvement in the co-creation of the unlikely-to-exist Mad Max 4: Fury Road.) Getting an artist like McCarthy for Solo is representative of what's made the series so interesting--besides the collective artistic legacy it contains, Solo is almost totally unique in it's desire to form a sort of canon of comic art. Unlike DC's Archive or Marvel's Masterworks series, which base the history of comic art around the weakest link possible, the characters, Solo has allowed each and every issue to be constructed totally under the aegis of the creator. If the focused artist of the month wishes to use established characters, like Batman etc, they've been allowed to--but if they're interest have been completely non-comics related, they've been allowed to do so as well. Comic Book Artist and the Marvel Visionaries publications are similar to Solo in that they focus on an individual creator, but they rarely examine the creator's current work, choosing to focus on previously published pieces or, as in the Will Eisner issue of Artist, pieces done by other artists in dedication to. What's been so refreshing about Solo is that it totally ignores whatever work it was that's made the artist famous by commissioning new work entirely. The work is then packaged into a 48 page comic book with no ads and the barest of graphic design.
McCarthy's work followed two lesser issues, focusing on Sergio Aragones and Damion Scott, but even if it had followed the best of Solo, it still would have out-shined them all. While McCarthy may have dodged comic work for over a decade, it's clear that the imagination that has made him so successful has been in constant practice. A masterful depiction of the sort of grotesque beauty normally found only in the farthest ends of the comic spectrum, this issue of Solo is probably one of the ugliest pieces of work that's been published in years. It's intense, emotional and sarcastic work, covered over in the stink of creation. Although it might be considered offensive in some circles, McCarthy is clearly operating on a much higher level than merely going for shock--even at it's strangest, the comic is more of cyberpunk fairy tale than anything else. Whether it's telling the story of a bizarre hermaphrodite who goes shopping, or just printing the word jelly in place of all nouns against photo-realist images of Earth, McCarthy's work is so unlike anything else that it makes total sense why someone of this level of talent no longer works in comics regularly--what could comics possibly have to offer him?
With the cancellation of Solo, the sad answer is this: nothing at all.