Author: Garth Ennis
Artist: Richard Case (pencil and inks), Matt Hollingsworth (colours)
Publisher: DC/Vertigo (1996)
ISBN Number: 2843990572
Garth Ennis’ Preacher series is a look at values, morality, love, and meaning in a modern world. The titular character embarks on a literal quest for God and encounters all manner of characters who embody our times. Ennis’ tells the story of one of those characters Arseface, downtrodden Eugene Root, while exploring coming-of-age themes of teenage isolation, domestic abuse, suicide, and pop-culture obsession.
Eugene’s story, appropriately, is an ugly one. He has been psychologically and physically tormented by his small-town sheriff father. His mother lives in bottles of vodka and jars of prescription pills. At school Eugene is despised by his peers and ridiculed by the teachers, a victim of daily bullying. His only ‘friend’ is Pube, a grunge infatuated teenage slacker who constantly puts Eugene down. Every attempt at social interaction is met with either neglect or ignorance by everyone. Every attempt to make a stand and assert some control over his own life falls flat. After a constant cycle of humiliation, abuse, and depression that culminates with the news of Kurt Cobain’s death, Eugene and Pube make a suicide pact, no longer able to endure their torturous existence. Only Eugene survives and re-emerges into the world, disgustingly disfigured but with a new-found optimism on life, as Arseface.
If you can get past the over-the-top use of profanity that is a hallmark of Ennis’ style, this work is both heartfelt and heart-breaking. Ennis writes Eugene’s troubles with such earnestness that you feel every kick in the gut. You can smell, taste, and hear the authenticity in the words and in the art. The art is awkward, nervous, skittish, and dark. It perfectly captures the emotional state of the characters. The colours, even in the few scenes of hope, are bleak and grimy, there’s nothing Hollywood about the world we’re in or the themes that it wallows in. The only time this atmosphere gives way to clarity is when we zoom in on the perfectly placed, emotional expressions and reactions to the events (or non-events) of Eugene’s life.
Pop-Culture permeates every panel of the book. From the musical, generation-spanning chapter headings (a musical tour bus through teen rebellion from the Beatles’ ‘a day in the life’ to Bowie’s ‘rebel, rebel’ to The Moody Blues ‘new horizons’ before finally ending at Nirvana.), to the opening and closing riffs on Forrest Gump. This book places the reader, with all their post-pubescent angst, as close to their own lives as possible. It makes sure things hit home, like a baseball bat to the ribs.
Despite the writer’s penchant for black humor, satire, and the grotesque, teenage depression and suicide and the silent sufferings that lead to it are treated respectfully and lead to some powerful proclamations. Characters rally against expectation and pressures of their miserable lives, constantly getting back up off the floor to keep searching for hope and a better tomorrow. There’s a strong message in here to think about the consequences of your actions.
The real gift of this book though is its inversion of the ugliness that lives inside everyone and that it takes something special to overcome, and sometimes that something special is a fella with a face like you-know-who.
If you or someone you know is struggling with any of the issues mentioned in this review, please speak to someone. There is hope and help available at services like Lifeline (13 11 14) or Kids Helpline (https://kidshelpline.com.au/teens/ or 1800 55 1800) is Australia’s only free, private, and confidential, phone counseling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25