Almost Too Much

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Jason Hall and Matt Kindt need to get a hold of themselves. To get their graphic novella and comix debut, "Pistolwhip," published they made their own "mock" print run and shopped it around the San Diego comicbook convention. They also handed out P.R. giveaways like trading cards of the characters, a paperdoll cutout with outfits, and a novelty cigarette. Many people assumed the book had actually been published.

Top Shelf, the Marietta, Georgia publisher, immediately signed them and has now put out this remarkable debut. But wait, there's more! They have also put out a slimmer, one-shot comicbook by Hall and Kindt, "Mephisto and the Empty Box," simultaneously with "Pistolwhip," for a double debut. Somebody tell those guys to calm down. The one book speaks for itself.

Just get a load of the cover: a trompe l'oeil reproduction of an old-fashioned radio with the title all but hidden as a manufacturing label. Not your usual comix cover. Flipping it open you expect to find a catalogue of radio parts, but instead get sucked in by the new-old-fashioned penwork of Matt Kindt. He relies on just a few, expressive strokes and flat blocks of black ink to create the art deco world of "Pistolwhip." Nearly abstract slashes and squiggles organize themselves into characters and place, often seen from wild points of view. One panel uses a briefcase perspective, a gigantic wrist at the bottom and a tiny head at the top.

Three shots fired; three bodies fall in Kindt and Hall's "Pistolwhip"

Kindt also takes the writing credit, with additional writing and layout assist given to Jason Hall. In a move as striking as the artwork Kindt and Hall structure the book backwards, starting with a triple, simultaneous shooting, and then telling each character's backstory in a separate chapter. Taking place in the 1930s or so, "Pistolwhip" uses the conventions of film noir (private detectives, femme fatales, mysterious old men) in its own goofball way. The mastermind's henchmen all inexplicably wear pirate outfits, for example. Or else a woman asks a musician what happened to his band, "The New Ideas." "Eet is a mistake," he says, pulling a gun on her, "Zhere are no New Ideas."

The near-bonus comic, fully titled "Pistolwhip Presents: Mephisto and the Empty Box," has little to do with the larger work, though it seems to take place in the same universe. A man's wife disappears into a magician's box when the magician dies onstage. Awash in confusion and grief, the man begins studying the tricks and putting on his own show in hopes of creating her again. At $3.95 it makes for a nice introduction to these guy's unique style, if ponying up $14.95 for the 120-page book seems too much too soon.

But "Pistolwhip" gives you plenty for your money. The design alone outclasses many books put out by more experienced comix creators. Matt Kindt and Jason Hall should be watched, if they don't exhaust themselves first.

'Pistolwhip' can be found a superior comix shops and ordered through the publisher's website and