Digital ComicsAlliance: ‘Old City Blues’ Makes An Old Future Feel New Again
Giannis Milonogiannis's Old City Blues caught me by surprise. I came into the comic almost entirely cold; while I'd seen Milonogiannis's name around online, most notably in this column by Joe Keatinge on Broken Frontier. It took a little while, but when I saw Old City Blues available for sale digitally, I took the leap and grabbed the story. It was the best decision I'd made in ages. OCB is a fast-paced tale that manages to smoothly familiarize you with an all-new, but familiar, setting even as you get caught up in the story. To make a long post shorter, it's a great read, the type of book you tear through and immediately want to read again.
Old City Blues is the sort of science fiction that's right in my lane. It isn't concerned with proving its bonafides by overdosing on obscure world-building facts or explaining the science of whatever technology is central to the story. Milonogiannis just gets down to the business of telling a story about cops in the near future. He expects you to trust him and follow along, and you won't be disappointed by the experience.
OCB takes place in New Athens, Greece, in 2048, offering us some beautifully rendered his cityscapes. We follow Detective Solano, agent of the Special Police, as he attempts to solve a murder case. There are a few complications: robots that have gone wild, incursions into the Old City (where things are much, much worse than they are in New Athens), and Solano learning to work with Thermidor, a pilot with the Mobile Gun Unit (a squad of human-piloted mechs).
OCB treads some familiar ground, especially if you're familiar with fiction like Blade Runner and the stories it's inspired. There's a vaguely evil corporation, budget cuts, a futuristic city that feels a lot like today but with better looking cars, and a conspiracy that slowly begins to crack under the weight of Solano's gaze. Milonogiannis avoids making this feel trite or like a retread by employing an engaging visual style and simply playing everything straight, rather than being obsequiously faithful to the stories that pioneered this micro-genre.
I'm not smart enough to know a whole lot about how Milonogiannis creates his art, but he uses screentones very well. His style is busy and pleasingly messy. You know how there's great pleasure to be found in looking at all the tiny figures and lines in Geof Darrow's work? There are two books, Big Damn Hard Boiled and King Size Big Guy & Rusty the Boy Robot, that are must-buys for Darrow fans. They're huge books, in terms of size rather than length, taller and wider than any Eurocomic I ever bought. They're uncolored and unlettered, leaving just Darrow's raw inks. You pore over those comics.
I get that same feeling from Milonogiannis's art, that thirst to gaze at it and figure out how he made it, what he's saying through his thin lines, and why it looks so good. The art is raw black and white, and Milonogiannis has fast-paced action that range from chase scenes to fights, but he never sacrifices clarity. Old City Blues is crystal clear, an admirable trait, and a book that you just wish you could inhale.
As I read, I kept recognizing the energy or feel of certain characters, concepts, or scenes in Old City Blues. Sort of a "Oh, this feels like a visual Masamune Shirow reference!" (link may be NSFW, leads to Tumblr) or "These buildings are kinda Katsuhiro Otomo-y!" kind of thing. I got the distinct feeling that Milonogiannis and I grew up on a lot of the same comic books and movies, and that's a good feeling. It made the book more fun, because I felt connected to the author and the work in a new way. I understood where he was coming from, which made it much easier to trust him to take me where he wanted me to go.
I don't mean to say that you need to play "Spot the Reference" while reading Old City Blues; trying to break his style up into its component parts (perceived or otherwise) does a disservice to his art as a whole. He's bigger than hair that's right out of Shirow's Appleseed or his Otomo-esque cityscapes. It's the aggregate that counts, not the building blocks, and Old City Blues definitely rises above its influences to create something that feels very fresh, an example of the places that comics can go when they're created with unfettered imagination.
Old City Blues is a nice little tale, and I'm glad I read it before I found out that he was going to join the Prophet team of Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Richard Ballerman, and Farel Dalrymple. Prophet is tremendous, and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to seeing how Milonogiannis fits into the crew.
You want Old City Blues, whether you realize it or not. This comic does a good job of synthesizing the past and still pushing forward into new ground. There's something for everybody here. It's a detective comic, a sci-fi comic, an action comic, but most of all, a good comic. All that other stuff is icing on a delicious cake.