IN THE EMPORIUM
Brendan’s comics can be found in the Secret Acres Emporium here.
IN PRAISE OF BRENDAN LEACH
It’s not every day you see a graphic novel set in Newark, New Jersey, let alone Newark in 1961. For all the changes of the last fifty years – from riots to revitalization, from Sharpe James to Cory Booker – a Newark of greasers and ice skating rinks seems almost mythological.
And yet, there it is, in the bold black and white illustrations of Brendan Leach’s graphic novel Iron Bound. This Newark is a gritty industrial town, filled with classic cars, working stiffs and long shadows – a gristmill where young toughs in leather jackets mix with old crooks. The result is a bitter meal of crime and regret.
– Stu Hovarth, Medium
Set in 1960s Newark, New Jersey, Iron Bound is a crime drama about two leather-jacketed greasers who work as hired muscle for a local, small time mafioso. Benny is a loose cannon. At the start of the book, on a bus from Asbury Park, we see him nearly beat to death a fellow passenger who makes the mistake of telling him to keep his voice down. Eddie is the more level-headed of the two, with ideas about going straight, but he has a lot of blood on his own hands to deal with. The narrative jumps back and forth in time to reveal two violent incidents in the recent past that will have repercussions for both young men. Leach does a fantastic job of building tension, especially in regards to Benny, who is the gun in the story that you just know will go off at any moment with no warning. What makes the book a little different from most street-level crime dramas is the setting and time period. A Jersey boy himself, Leach’s stark black and white drawings seem to capture this era of leather jackets, greased-back hair, bowling alleys and skating rinks and embodies it all with a rich level of Jerseyness. It’s like The Lords of Flatbush by way of the Jersey Turnpike. Like that film, it has a very ’70s vibe to the pacing and feel of the story, even though it’s set in the early 1960s. Leach’s drawings have a loose immediacy to them that may not appeal to everyone on an aesthetic level, but their sketchbook-like quality makes it feel like he was there, hanging out on Broad Street or on the boardwalk, watching all this go down. His style and seemingly prolific ability to put out books quickly reminds me of Jeff Lemire (who provides an endorsement on the back of the book) but also of the great Italian comic artist Gipi, who is no stranger to crime stories himself.– Rich Barrett, mental_flossIron Bound is sort of the “Leader of the Pack” of comics. Set in early 1960s New Jersey, it follows the violent lives of a small group of motorcycle gang members (they wear the jackets at least, but no one ever rides a bike) and their girlfriends, but the comparison goes beyond the subject matter. Like The Shangri-Las’ song, it’s not too concerned with being neat. Instead, the narrative and art ring raw and busy, rendered in quick and sometimes ugly strokes that capture the passion and mess of being young and stupid.Leach’s line resembles that of New Yorker cartoonist Ben Katchor, down to the surprisingly detailed backgrounds that contrast with the simple figures. No one is pretty. The men bristle with unglamorous stubble. The women’s butts stick out in funny ways. Noses slash through faces or poke out of profiles as if added on as an afterthought. It can be offputting. But page after page of these characters slouching, pissed off, through the New Jersey night ends up growing on you. They’re not stereotypes. Each is an individual, even if his or her background isn’t fleshed out.
Iron Bound is a focused book. The scope of the story is small and the group of people within is likewise intimate. One could call it provincial, or maybe it’s just about provincialism. It’s about the desire to get out of your small hometown and make something of yourself, and the way your friends keep pulling you back into the tar pit.
– Hillary Brown, Paste Magazine
Iron Bound is a sobering story about a gang war in 1961. It’s drawn and written by illustrator Brendan Leach of the New York Times and Top Shelf’s Pterodacyl Hunters with story and dialogue that is Cormac McCarthyesque in it’s tense build up, honest to the point dialogue and brutal eruptions of violence. It’s about small details and the gritty day to day existence of young small time criminals as opposed to a grand sweeping crime epic; more akin to to Mean Streets as opposed to The Godfather trilogy. It’s drawn in a classical cartoon style with rough lines that helps to shape the atmosphere of the cold industrial setting where the story unfolds. I’ve been around so many of these places in this book so many times in my life and it’s striking how similar they still look fifty years past this comics time period. The story itself is something that sounds like it could have happened over the last few months, which is not to say it was predictable but anybody that understands the concept of honor among thieves (ie none) will probably see where this is going as the plot unfolds. It’s a testament to the strength of storytelling and character building that Leach makes the book about feeling the fear and sadness of the people inside this story while continuing to ratchet that up as there impending doom inches closer. That’s the secret of crime fiction; from Heat to Goodfellas, The Wire to Breaking Bad, Elmore Leonard to Richard Price and Scalped to Criminal what’s important is the story about the people inside of it, everything else is structure and boundaries for the characters inside bounce off of until everything reaches the point of combustion and there are only the most ruthless left standing. Great crime fiction is really just great writing about complex people in challenging situations and in Iron Bound Leach has that in spades. It speaks to the power of his story and character building both in the way his art conveys action and emotions and in how he writes interactions that Leach makes someone that you see murder another character at the beginning of the book a sympathetic protagonist at the end. While the book is certainly about Newark; it’s in the same way that The Wire was about Baltimore in that the “where” is really only the sum of the people that inhabit it.
When you open Iron Bound there is a full page spread aerial view of the Newark skyline with the Prudential Building towering over the rest of the city. At first I thought this was supposed to be a modern illustration of the city as a contrast to the historical setting of the story and that the Prudential Tower was old as I was at most. Turns out it’s been there since 1956. Most of the building surrounding it have been around even longer. It’s fitting for a story that shows how much things stay the same over time. Many of the aesthetic elements are different; the way the kids dress, the cars they drive and the music they listen to. But the cycle of violence inside these cities goes on because as Iron Bound shows; some things never change.
– Patrick Hess, Nothing But Comics
Set in switchblade-sharp, scratchy line work and brash dialogue, Iron Bound is a breathless run through Garden State dive bars and half-empty bowling alleys. Brooklyn comics artist Brendan Leach has a New Jersey suburbs background that he ties into mangled knots with this bulky black and white pulp for NYC publisher Secret Acres, name-dropping favorite shore-town watering holes and working-in affectionate renderings of classic boardwalk landmarks where possible. He winds the clock back to 1961 and follows a pair of biker jacket-clad hoods out for a quick buck as they advance up and down the Jersey turnpike in city buses or stolen cars.
Most of the action in Iron Bound boils over with smashed car fenders and swollen knuckles in Newark, specifically in the neighborhood for which the book is named, an area east of downtown, where lower-rung gang kids make collections for a man they call Mr. Dores. Lamps perched atop wobbly, sketchpad-esque posts dot the city’s empty streets in Leach’s graphic novel, with rain and transmission fluid puddling in front of apartment buildings that look as if they’re held together with tape. Staff at the grandiose Paramount Theater screens the new Clark Gable film for hordes of teen girls, while the artist’s greaser toughs prowl Market Street in their hulking late ‘50s Plymouth Belvedere…
…There mostly isn’t room for Iron Bound‘s broken-down hoods to evolve in the book. We get the sense that there’s hope for Eddie, but Leach doesn’t lend any pages to character back-stories. Everyone is fittingly little more than a sketch, with their motives as paper-thin as the busted neon signs that dangle over the novel’s taverns. Rodent-faced Benny Chagas is the least cool-headed of the pack, as he hassles passers-by for no real cause and needs little reason to slip his car keys between his fingers or draw his knife and start swinging.
Outside of the tense flashbacks (in which Leach breaks from harsh blotting and smearing to cushion with blurry greys), where ill-fated conversations grow less controlled with each panel, Iron Bound‘s brawl scenes are among the book’s best-told moments. The punch-ups are crazed and somewhat fragmented, with the artist’s aggressive strokes—not unlike Jeff Lemire’s in Lost Dogs—setting an air of chaos, if also presenting a less than clear picture.
Leach uses tightly closed spaces well in establishing angst and alienation, and Benny’s temper explodes on a bus, in dark, cramped bar rooms, and more. All of Iron Bound‘s grit and grease makes for a fast read, as this grainy-paged pulp speeds down the turnpike toward its inevitably bleak showdown.
– Dominic Umile, Pop Matters
In this pitiless arena, any attempt to get ahead faces obstacle after obstacle, trust comes at a premium, and good intentions are likely not good enough. Iron Bound reads like a delicious amalgam of a vintage Jim Thompson crime noir novel with illustrations reminiscent of (mutant) Ben Katchor fused with a hint of Lynda Barry’s early punky-scrawly-scratchy style…
…Author Brendan Leach made a name for himself in comics pretty quickly; he’s likely best known for ThePterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City, which he first self-published in tabloid form with a Xeric Grant in 2010. An excerpt was chosen for inclusion in Best American Comics 2011, and Top Shelf reprinted it as a book in 2012. He also published another fine solo comic book with Retrofit that year called New Sludge City, a crime tale similar in theme and subject matter to Iron Bound, only taking place in a futuristic (but no less grungy) setting.
Where Dan Clowes’ Lloyd Llewellyn comics evoked the Eisenhower-grey period of the late ’50s and early ’60s through an affectionately ironic lens, Leach captures the mean streets of Newark and Asbury Park in all their gritty, unromantic urbanity. His line has a sketchy, loose feel, often straying beyond the panel borders in a wonderfully uncontrolled fashion, adding to the nervous tension of the story.
Curiously, even with a story this grim and relentless, he manages to invoke some pleasurable nostalgia, presenting a bygone world of a not-too-distant past, a time when movies were shown in big, stylish theaters instead of cheap multiplexes, when cityscapes weren’t pockmarked with corporate chain stores and fast food restaurants, and a “punk” was more likely a hoodlum like Eddie and Benny than a mohawked, tattooed member of a garage band. Leach evokes the era with an assured hand, skillfully juxtaposing what seems a much more innocent time with protagonists who are anything but…
…At any rate, with this gripping, skillfully wrought noir, Leach continues his winning streak. Should he decide he wants to make crime comics a thing again he’d be well suited for the job.
– Robert Kirby, The Comics Journal
In the genre of crime fiction, there are some steadfast principles. Foremost among them are that true loyalty and trust are a scarce commodity amongst mugs and mobsters, and that escape and redemption from the criminal underworld is at best a murky, dangerous proposition, and more likely a mere flickering mirage…
In Iron Bound, Brendan Leach channels the classic crime novel’s poetic pulse of corruption and violence into the graphic novel format, in a striking and elegantly woven gangster tale of delinquency and corroded morality in 60′s New Jersey. It’s the story of greasers, Newark hoodlums, crooked cops, and their thorny, shifting allegiances. It’s also the story of good girls entangled with bad guys, and the combustible aftermath of a single, brutal act of impulsive machismo…
…The story of Eddie, Berny, Mr. Dores, and the crooked cop now suddenly hot on their tail is fleshed out through a series of flashbacks elucidating the history between the two young hoods and their venerable though stoically pragmatic boss. We see through these flashbacks that this is not the first time an impulsive and spontaneous moment of senseless violence has threatened the stability of their small, insular Newark crime syndicate; also, the individual rendered a casualty in one such previous incident happens to be of close relation to the woman with whom Eddie now finds himself romantically entangled.
Thus is constructed an elaborate tale of violence, love, betrayal, and deferred dreams of leaving the outlaw existence for a life on the straight and narrow. Moments from the past are rendered in washed out tones of gray, the present in bold yet sinuous lines of black and white. Leach’s art bears the influence of Ben Katchor’s kinetic yet carefully composed drawings, yet he carves out an aesthetic illustration style all his own. Apart from being a very well written story with an abiding respect for the classic crime genre it skillfully adapts as its own, and a beautifully illustrated and printed graphic novel, it also comes with a detachable flexi disc (!!) of two tracks from imagined sixties rockabilly band The Newark Wanderers to soundtrack one ice-rink dance/gang rumble scene.
It’s an ageless morality tale staged within a moral vacuum; try as one may to leave behind a life of mortal sin, violence and crime is a vicious and self-perpetuating cycle which has a natural tendency to close in on itself, with switchblade precision.
– Terell Paris, IndieReader
Leach’s big follow-up to 2011′s Pterodactyl Hunters is a very entertaining, tightly paced crime comic about two hoodlums living in Newark, New Jersey, in the early ’60s and the trouble they get into running “errands” for one of the local gangsters. I really liked the way Leach sets up the story, with a violent incident on a bus that quickly establishes the characters’ personalities and relationships to each other but also becomes an even more significant incident once you learn what those two were doing on that bus. Leach has an angular, slashing style that fits the grittiness of the material and also keeps the narrative moving a hurried clip, rarely taking a moment to pause… …Overall, this is a sharp, strong book, a smart follow-up to Hunters and proof that Leach is a cartoonist to watch. The book even comes with a flexi-disc record to play during the story’s big fight/climax, a really terrific conceit, even if the nerd in me is hesitant to play it, for fear of damaging the book’s “mint” condition (you never know what might be worth money some day).
– Chris Mautner, CBR
It’s rare for a comic to hold me throughout its story, even some of my favorite comics don’t hold my attention completely. Usually, I take small breaks or rests from reading, taking in whatever message or moral they’re putting forth. It’s even rarer for a comic to just grab me from the first panel. Iron Bound did all of that. It grabbed me from the first page, the first panel and it never let me go. I had to finish Iron, all in one run. I love when comics do that to me, grab me by the throat, shove my face into it’s story and doesn’t let go until I’m done…
…With so much going on and one would worry that Leach could easily lose control of the story and it become a tangled mess. Luckily for us, Leach knows what he’s doing. You get a feeling from the beginning, that Leach has everything under control and we’re have nothing to worry about. Leach has a knack for pacing. Even though Leach is almost always moving us through the story, shit is always going down and we’re always trying to get ahead from whoever is trying to get us, Leach still allows us, in a panel or page, to take a breather. To take in what has occurred in the story, digest it but not for long because like before, we have to move. I know it might sound tiring, but I love it; it’s a page turner and after a while you realize you’re almost done with comic and you feel sad because you don’t want it to stop. It’s exhilarating and goddamn gripping because you want to read if Eddie is able dealing with his situation or if Benny will calm down or read what Dore is going to do next. Leach keeps you guessin’ and keeps you on your toes and it’s amazing.
It’s impossible to talk about Iron Bound without talking about Leach’s style. Leach is able to communicate the anguish, anger, frustration and futility of the lives of his characters. We’re able to see and almost feel the grit and dirt of the characters and the city they’re living in. He’s able to communicate the frustration of Newark but yet give us a feeling of pleasurable nostalgia that makes us feel like we’ve always been there, that we’re somehow coming back home. There’s something about Leach’s loose kinetic lines that looks so deceptively simple but is able to communicate a multitude feelings. I don’t know how he does it, but man am I glad the comics world has some one like Brendan Leach working in it.
Iron Bound slowly becomes more than a story about two gang members dealing with the world they’ve been dealt with. It’s a story of a part of a city and an in-depth character study of the characters who live in that part. People just trying to get ahead in life, trying to survive and getting whatever small pleasure goes their way. Sometimes life goes their way and at times they’re shut out of it.
– Larry Vossler, The 9th Blog
Leach turned what could have been a cheap gimmick into a genuinely affecting story. He drew his visual inspiration from sources few young artists seem inspired by these days: David Mazzucchelli (his thesis advisor), Ben Katchor and Eddie Campbell. From Mazzucchelli, he seemed inspired by his Rubber Blanket-era stories, especially in terms of how he used pauses and stillness to tell the story. Leach’s scribbly line is not unlike Campbell’s, especially when he used a skeletal line to depict quick motion in a single panel. Katchor obviously inspired Leach’s development of the alternate history of New York from a bygone era. In addition to using the same kind of evocative gray-scaling that Katchor employs, there’s also the same level of attention to detail.
While there is a remarkable amount of detail, what makes this comic such a success is Leach’s restraint as an artist. He’s subtle in evoking the changes that would grip a city afflicted with this particular kind of terror, like merchants hurriedly closing up shop before sundown (hunting time for the pterodactyls) and particular ethnic groups clustering to the industry that sprang up to kill the monsters…
The reader was brought in at the end of an era, building tension between the genuine benefits that this end augured and the desperate, selfish desire of a young man who didn’t want it to end and knew it was wrong to think so. For a young cartoonist, this is an impressive work.
– The Comics Journal
Brendan Leach’s debut looks like another high concept genre gimmick, with pterodactyls plaguing New York City circa 1905. This slim graphic novel (and 2010 Xeric Award winner) has more depth than most works that freely mix historical eras with such boyhood fascinations as robots, monsters and dinosaurs. Leach builds his own little compelling world with minimal effort, with only a few lines of dialogue and a newspaper front page filling in all the history and details we could want. It’s a world that looks like real world turn-of-the-century New York but with bands of municipal employees in hot air balloons hunting flying dinosaurs with harpoons and sticks of dynamite. Leach focuses less on the action or the backstory than on the family drama surrounding a young would-be ptero hunter wilting in the shadow of his older brother, who is the most celebrated ptero slayer of the day. Gilded age dinosaur hunters might sound like one of DC’s old Silver Age larks, but Leach approaches it with a literary sensibility, pinpointing the jealousy, shame and fear that motivates and paralyzes the younger brother. If pterodactyls really did plague the gilded age, this is the story Stephen Crane would’ve written about the intermittently brave men who undertook the fight. Leach’s scratchy, cartoony artwork probably would have been sneered at back then, but it’s a strikingly distinctive style for a newcomer.
– Garret Martin, Paste Magazine
It’s wonderful to imagine that New York at the turn of the 20th century may still be living under the threat of prehistoric pterodactyls. Brendan Leach’s story starts out with that great concept. In 1905, it seems that only two or three pterodactyls remain, most recently thanks to Eamon Sullivan, a true-hearted hero of the city. Maybe more proud-hearted than true, Eamon is the hero of New York City as he carries on the family business and kills every pterodactyl that he can. And he’s going to kill them all before his younger brother Declan has a chance to even find out if he could be half the civic hero that Eamon is.
Leach has this great concept of pterodactyl hunters, but that is not what his story is really about. Declan is a kid on the verge of being a man, but even he doesn’t know what kind of man that he wants to be. Everyone seems to assume that he’ll only be a fraction as successful as his brother and, it’s implied, somehow not as mature or respected as his brother. Even their father, an old pterodactyl hunter himself, equals success in bringing down these old beasts as being the equivalent as being a successful person. He has one successful son and then he’s got Declan who is always going to be just not as good as his brother. Even Declan himself, without ever coming out and saying it, seems to feel this way about himself; he’s never going to get the chance to prove himself in the eyes of his father, his brother or the city.
So instead of telling a story about something fantastic and magical like dinosaurs, Leach builds a very personal story about all of our doubts of what we’re going to be when we grow up. The one person who seems to understand the self-doubt that Declan is going through is his childhood friend Bridget. Even though she is now a nun, Declan obviously still sees the girl he used to know because he can’t refer to her as “Sister Bridget,” even though he’s repeatedly reprimanded by an older nun to do so. She looks like she’s made her choices but in her own way, she’s just as adrift as Declan. As Declan, sitting on the church’s steps confesses “it’s just not turning out the way thought it would,” Bridget pauses for a moment before agreeing. “I know the feeling,” she says.
– David Pepose, Newsarama
From the offices of Box Brown and Retrofit Comics comes this Brendan Leach joint about a weird sci-fi dystopia. Hey, wait a minute, it’s almost like these young cartoonists are increasingly influenced by Heavy Metal magazine or something. Imagine that!
Leach, who I know almost nothing about other than that he’s the guy who drew a comic about a pterodactyl that some people once told me was worth a look, draws this comic like it’s a low-budget punk rock sci-fi action sequence with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s raw-looking and energetic, and relatively thin on subtext, but the plot whizzes along and it’s basically a neo-punk-noir mind-swap crime movie on paper. It’s genre trash as end effect, and it doesn’t get in its own way.
– Timothy Callahan, CBR
Sometimes you fall for people’s work rather hard. Which has been the way for me and Brendan Leach’s comics ever since I read Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City last year. Leach hasn’t a vast body of comics work- afore-mentioned Pterodactyls aside, a mini called New Sludge City released with Retrofit last year, and ongoing series Iron Bound, but there’s a quality to his art in particular that grabs me: it has a real personality that reminds me of Quentin Blake in its lines and expressiveness, but with a vulnerability that makes his work so open.
– Forbidden Planet International
To kill pteros in Pterodactyl Hunters, the hunters alight in hot air balloons and shock the pteros with explosives before eventually harpooning them. This seems to be sufficient to almost completely wipe out their entire species. At the opening of the comic, in 1904, there are only two pteros left in the whole world. The story focuses on a single family of hunters that has been in the business of destroying pteros for many generations. It’s a real obsession for them, which is something the youngest son seems to resent. The family is made up of two Irish sons and one father who is elderly and no longer hunts. The mother was apparently taken by pteros. The young son is a spotter in a watch tower. His job is pretty easy and doesn’t seem to carry much responsibility. His older brother, however, is a hero to the city of New York. He is the golden boy of the modern Ptero Patrol and this also causes some friction between the brothers. He gets all the glory, and is excellent at his work with the bomb lance, but at the expense of his sympathy and carefulness. He has become one-sighted with his goals, and his younger brother begins to question his older brother’s compunction, really, to a fault.
This is a really gorgeous and unique story… …It feels like the perfect means of delivery for a story so rooted in history, antique ideals and sensationalism.
– Sarah Morean, Daily Crosshatch
Despite the pleasing visuals, the story is the greatest strength of the work. The setting, the characters, and the narrative drive are all top notch. The story’s world has existed for years, but it is this particular moment of internal and external crisis that creates the reason for the story.
The Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City is a literary story told using the comics medium. There’s plenty of action driving the story along, but its conclusion is as complex as the mixed emotions of its
– Midnight Fiction
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