It is honestly difficult for me to write a “review” of Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura’s “I Kill Giants.” After all, the difference between an objective review and, say, commentary is that word “objective” — and I, unfortunately, cannot be objective about the masterwork that is “I Kill Giants.” Why, you ask?
Because it makes me cry every goddamn time.
I’m not saying it makes me tear up, or even shed a manly tear. No, this book completely batters down my defenses and makes me lose it. It isn’t pretty, and it is kind of embarassing, but that’s why the book never leaves my room — I would never trust myself to read this comic in public.
One of the things that is universal across Joe Kelly’s diverse body of work is the incredibly human touch he brings to all of his characters, and that quality of his work is brought to full force in “I Kill Giants.” With his protagonist, Barbara, Kelly explores themes that could easily be made trite by a lesser writer. Sure, Barbara’s problems at home and her methods of coping with them are real issues that nearly all of us have faced in some form of another, but they are not ones that just anyone can handle with appropriate delicacy. It would be all too easy for someone else to write nearly the same exact story that Kelly tells in “I Kill Giants,” only to trivialize Barbara and her unique perspective on the world. Perhaps the key to this is that Kelly does not put too much stock in his metaphors; while certainly images are clearly supposed to “stand” for something, Kelly is not at all interested in coming off as clever. By not getting too wrapped up in the “big picture,” Kelly is able to focus on the very things that make us human — doubt, fear, suspicion, lonliness, and denial, to name a few — and pull them off with a true master’s touch (and, besides, this allows him to further realize said big picture). Every character in “I Kill Giants” is living and breathing, and Barbara in particular fully embodies that basic fear of “I am not strong enough” that we have all felt… which makes Kelly’s reassurance that, yes, we are, all the more profound.
The comic’s high level of quality is just as much the result of J.M. Ken Niimura’s artistic talent as it is Kelly’s words. There’s a strange contradiction that often rears its head in art: sometimes it takes unrealistic stylistic choices to convey real human emotion. Niimura’s art is highly stylized, having more in common with the style of Japanese manga than with American superhero comics (though still remaining decidedly unique), and this allows him to convey the complex emotions that Kelly is dealing with seemingly without a semblance of effort — Niimura makes the most difficult aspects of being a comic artist seem like a simple walk in the park. The characters are highly expressive, without being over-exaggerated, the comic has a sense of motion and dynamism, and it reads from panel to panel without any real effort. These qualities alone separate a great artist from a great comics artist. Perhaps the best demonstration of his skills as an artist, though — and, by the way, thematic spoilers ahead for the rest of this paragraph — is in his depiction of Barbara’s giant. On the surface level, it is everything you would want to a giant to be: imposing, massive, and seemingly unstoppable. But in knowing exactly what the giant stands for, what it represents, you cannot help but marvel at how well Niimura captures abstract concepts in a semi-realistic form (comparatively, at least). The giant is not a giant at all, but an amalgation of some of the worst emotions we all deal with — and Niimura’s art reflects that. It has form and structure, and yet somehow perfectly captures feelings and emotions that supposedly cannot be truly depicted. If that’s the case, though, no one told Niimura.
There are two collected editions of “I Kill Giants,” the standard paperback and a deluxe hardcover “Titan Edition.” While I understand not wanting to spend $35 on a seven-issue miniseries, I highly, highly recommend buying the Titan Edition. On the most basic level, it is gorgeous, with a cover designed by Niimura that looks super impressive on the shelf, and an increased size that allows the artist’s work to somehow look even more impressive (seriously, I originally read the series in singles and was blown away by seeing the art with just a few more inches added to the length and width). More importantly, though, it has so much in the way of bonus features, primarily detailing the creative process. Scripts, thumbnails, sketches, cover processes… nearly every step in the journey from translating this from Kelly’s text to Niimura’s pencils is detailed here. If you’re still hesitant, I understand completely — you’ll just have to buy the Titan Edition and gift your paperback. Oh, what a loss.Continued below
There are many books I would recommend, but few I would label as “essential.” “I Kill Giants” is one of those few. In this mini, Kelly and Niimura expertly capture human emotion in a way that is simultaneously reassuring and absolutely heartbreaking. We are stronger than we think — though maybe not strong enough to make it through “I Kill Giants” without sobbing.