Image at 25: How ‘Fell’ Showed Comics What They Could Be
Comics have a problem. Despite being part of one of the biggest cultural upheavals of recent years, they're still not read by too many people. Most people who work in comics, or even read comics, know that a lot of outsiders who are interested in comics have absolutely no idea where to start.
But that's not their only problem! Comics are too expensive, and run for too long, and are basically evil super operas that cost a dollar for every half second we read them. You can't miss an issue, or else you're out of the loop for it all, but that also means that almost nothing happens in each comic, so you might as well wait for the graphic novel collection, but oh wait, if you do that it increases the odds of the comic being cancelled! Comics are great, but also completely broken.
That's where Fell should have come in.
Fell was written by Warren Ellis, who is perhaps the most forward thinking man in comics. He started Fell back in 2005, with artist Ben Templesmith --- who, aside from being my favorite artist, is probably the best at what he does, which is gothic, small, horror.
Fell had a lot of things going for it. For one, it was a noir-ish story of a detective moving to a city that seemed at times grittily real, and at others otherworldly and terrifying. If you've read Gotham at Midnight, imagine that series, but more mature, and written by Warren freakin Ellis. There was an overarching plot about the mysteries of the city, and a recurring mysterious nun with a Richard Nixon mask, but each issue could also stand completely on its own. There was no waiting for the trade.
Oh, another thing? Each issue was only eighteen pages, had no advertisements, and sold for $1.99.
The series disappeared after 2008 --- technically a hiatus --- as a victim of that most insidious downside of technological progress, a computer crash. Ellis lost scripts for dozens of his comics series. Fell went on hold after the ninth issue, with Ben Templesmith saying there was a script ready for the tenth, but that publisher Image Comics refused to solicit until there were two more scripts. Ellis has talked about bringing the series back for a long time, but no one knows if it will ever happen. Even if it does, it'll only last another seven before ending at a succinct sixteen issues, if the creators stick to their original plan.
The series was designed by Ellis and Templesmith to create a cheaper comic, because Ellis realized --- like many of us --- that comics are way too expensive. Fell is one of the first comic books created entirely to be easy to get into. It was cheap. Each issue stands alone, so you can skip issues if you want. You can start with any issue. There would only have been sixteen issues, so you didn't need to commit for the long haul. It was a readers' comic; maybe the only one. Comics would have been improved if they had followed Fell's lead.
Of course, beyond the format, the series was also amazing, winning two Eisners. It was dark, mysterious, and had some of Ellis' best writing, and Templesmith's most impactful art.
It was also my single favorite comic ever made. Not only because of the beautifully precise panel grid, the emphasis on creating affordable comics, and the amazing art (although all of that is amazing), but because it creates a dark and vivid world that I want to spend more time in. Because despite it going on hiatus almost ten years ago, I still check to see when it's coming back.
Because it made me a fan of Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith. Because it is one of the most interesting and complex, and forgotten, Image comics around.