Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favourite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.
I was never into comics, or “graphic novels” as I now know them, but I’ve always been a bookworm. When I was a kid, I would hide under my covers with a flashlight to sneak in at least one more chapter after lights out. I read while I walked to and from school. I read on car rides. I read every chance I could, and still do, but I was always into novels, never comics. I didn’t have the patience for them. I wanted to absorb as many words as possible and create the story in my head in my own way, I didn’t want to take time looking at pictures and seeing everything the way someone else already had. At least I think that’s why I never got into them. It could be that they were never offered to me or presented as a worthwhile investment of my time. My parents didn’t read them, my friends didn’t read them, and I grew up an only child so I didn’t even have any siblings to steal them from. But when I was 20, a self-proclaimed comic nerd (my then-husband) assured me there were some really incredible stories told in that format and if I ever wanted to give them a shot, I should start with Preacher. I think it was partly my wanting to take part in something he enjoyed as much as it was my willingness to give almost anything in this world a fair chance, so one day, for whatever reason, I picked up the first trade of Preacher (“Gone to Texas”) and decided to give it a go. Did I like it? Well, I now have a half-sleeve tattoo based on this series and a cat whose registered name is Tulip O’Hare. What the hell, right? I’m still not sure how I went into Preacher with zero expectations and yet the series somehow managed to go beyond every single one of them.
Preacher is the tale of Jesse Custer, a good ol’ Southern boy who idolizes cowboys but ends up a reverend, not by choice as is later revealed. But when an angel and a demon hook up at the border between Heaven and Hell and create a being that is the perfect balance of good and evil, Jesse’s career and life change direction. This being (called Genesis) has made itself at home inside Jesse’s head and with its equal parts good and evil combined with Jesse’s free will as a human being, the two of them have become something powerful – maybe even more powerful than God himself, since Genesis has also given Jesse the ability to command anyone to do anything with a certain tone of his voice. The creation of Genesis scares God so badly in fact that he abandons his throne, his kingdom, and everyone he’s created and goes into hiding. But this is unacceptable to Reverend Jesse Custer, not because of a faith he may or may not have, but because his sense of right and wrong tell him so. Jesse decides to track God down and hold him accountable for abandoning the creation he claims to love so much, because that’s just not an honourable thing to do, damn it. So with his old flame Tulip and his new vampire friend Cassidy in tow, he sets off on a journey across the great US of A to set things right.
As the story is told through its 66 issues, we learn about Jesse’s past – his childhood and what happened to his parents, the cruel monsters who raised him, why he abandoned Tulip 5 years before despite her being the love of his life. We learn about Tulip and what she went through as a girl to become one of the most kick-ass and inspiring heroines in comic book history. We learn about Cassidy and how he became the beast he is, and what a beast he is. We learn about the religious organization called The Grail which basically controls the entire planet (politics, media, etc.) but with only one goal in mind, which they are determined to reach no matter what the cost. There is not a moment of rest reading Preacher. There is so much going on in this series at any given time that it would be undoubtedly overwhelming if it were told by anyone other than the genius that is Garth Ennis and the master that is Steve Dillon. Sometimes one simple word in one perfectly drawn panel is all it takes to rip your heart right out, or fill it right up. Oh, that’s another thing – Preacher is one giant emotional roller coaster. It gets to me and affects me in ways I still don’t understand. Phenomenal storytelling in every way. Not to mention Glenn Fabry’s spectacular covers for each issue, all of which are available collected in their own volume entitled Preacher: Dead or Alive.
I wouldn’t necessarily call Preacher a religious tale despite its undertones. Sure it’s a blatant flaying of organized religion and the hypocrisy within, as well as the darkness that lies beneath so many organizations in which people place their hope, trust and lives. It asks questions that I don’t think could be asked in any other format. No one would write a novel about a morbidly obese religious leader who also happens to be a bulimic sadist. No one would make a movie about an inbred shit-throwing (literally) ‘Messiah’ supposedly descended from the original Christ. No one would write a poem about fallen angels who have discovered the joys of sex and cocaine. Well maybe someone would… But the point is, comics are allowed to be pulpy, violent and dirty. They’re allowed to push boundaries in a way that even in today’s desensitized society are tricky to push.
But it’s not the sex (of which there is a ton), violence (also wonderfully excessive), the questions about religion, nor the mind-blowingly awesome, twisted, and corrupt characters of Herr Starr and the Saint of Killers that drilled this story into my head and heart. It’s Jesse and Tulip. To me, Preacher is a love story. One character says, “Tulip and Jesse were born to love,” and that’s it exactly. Their love is perfect, but not in a bullshit way. They fight. They drive each other crazy. They push each other way beyond their limits. But their love is unwavering and unquestionable. They live for each other, believe in each other, and they would, and do, die for each other (more than once, actually). They are willing to fight, kill, and suffer to be together, because there just cannot be one without the other. When Jesse asks Tulip how long he’s going to love her, she knows what the answer is: “Until the end of the world.” And he knows she will love him just as long.
Preacher was my gateway comic. It opened the door to a world I didn’t even know existed. The same year I first read Preacher, I also discovered Transmetropolitan, Y the Last Man, Fables, The Walking Dead, Invincible, and so many others that I would have otherwise missed out on had I not loved Preacher as much as I did. It’s one of the greatest stories ever told, for countless reasons, and will always hold a special place in my heart (and on my arm).