Paul Erfurt a former tabloid journalist has landed a cushy assignment from Time magazine. His story takes him to Las Vegas where he is to interview and investigate this character who calls himself The King. The King wears a shiny gold helmet and goggles that covers his face, and he sings and acts like Elvis Presley. This enigmatic Elvis impersonator has taken the Vegas strip and the world by storm, and his performances are so mesmerizing that not only do Elvis fans believe that this impersonator is the real deal, but also new people are joining what is rapidly moving transforming from fringe cult to a mainstream religion with The King as the “God of Song.”
Back in his tabloid days, Erfurt covered hundreds of Elvis sightings, those appearances in restaurants, movie theatres, clubs, etc that Elvis Presley continued to make after his death. These sightings are the reason that thousands (if not millions) of people believe that Elvis’ death on August 16, 1977 was a hoax. Erfurt conducts probing interviews with The King and his “new Memphis Mafia” of assistants and thuggish bodyguards (Elvis’ entourage was called the Memphis Mafia). Erfurt becomes uncomfortable with his subject matter, believing he left covering Elvis sightings for the tabloids behind him a long time ago, but he’s about to discover something profound in his quest to debunk The King.
Cartoonist Rich Koslowski has worked in the animation and comic book industry for over a decade. As an inker for Archie Comics, he inked the Sonic the Hedgehog comic book, as well as other titles like Jughead and Veronica. He gained critical acclaim and an Ignatz Award for his graphic novel, Three Fingers, or which I’m not familiar, but if it is better than THE KING, then, it is truly a fine work.
The King is a kind of a pop culture, mystery novel. Its subject matter (that of an Elvis impersonator acting as a god with his own religion and church), its characters (The King himself, his “mafia,” the cynical tabloid reporter and his friend – a one-eyed private dick who assists him), and its setting (the Vegas strip) make this a thoroughly offbeat mystery. Imagine Elmore Leonard without the mature content and violence and combine that with the film Chinatown’s twisted personal and business relationships, and you’re very close to the milieu of The King.
The reporter, Paul Erfurt, is so cynical that he is unnatural skeptical. He seemingly believes that almost everything is a scam or a racket. The King, on the other hand, may also believe that lots of things in the world are is scams or rackets, but that means nothing if the scam makes people happy without doing serious harm to them. He is no-nonsense, and makes no apologies that religion is a matter of faith, and with faith comes doubt – without doubt, there is no faith, The King says. Like a smart religious figure, he nails down a simple philosophy, but won’t let anyone nail down his past. Of course, to a lot of people, especially reporters like Paul Erfurt, The King’s reluctance to discuss his past is more than enough reason to be suspicious of him.
Koslowski doesn’t hide the fact that The King likes the ladies. He doesn’t call him God, but The King is “a god,” one that can enjoy human pleasures like sex. His power isn’t omnipotent, but rather he has the ability to make people happy and believe in something through his singing and performing. In that, he is indeed a powerful god. When we meet Erfurt, he is nothing more than an limp sock left over from a career that went sour on him. The King gives Erfurt’s life new meaning, as much as he might be hesitant to admit it. As he runs around with the help of an old friend, Dave, the private detective, trying to figure out who The King is, he is missing the real story, which is about what The King is.
Throughout the book, Koslowski sprinkles a lite version of religious philosophy and mystery faith, mostly through the mouth of The King, but the heart of this graphic novel is the mystery. Koslowski through Erfurt carries us along on a light-hearted mystery thriller from page one to the end that always keeps the reader on his toes asking questions. Who is The King. Is he you-know-who? Where did he come from? Who are these guys, the “new Memphis Mafia?” Will any of them hurt (or maybe kill) Erfurt? Will Erfurt and Dave’s undercover work be thrown into the light of day? Will Erfurt ever “get it?”
Koslowski uses every page to keep the reader engaged. The reader can enjoy this as a mystery, or simply like the book for its offbeat Elvis angle. Koslowski’s art favors the kind of cartooning found in humor comic books, like the one’s he drew for Archie, but with an alt-comix sensibility. Colorist Adam Wallenta uses a two-color process that livens the art. Simple black and white wouldn’t serve The King’s out of the ordinary mystery mood, and full color would have ruined the surreal note the book hits. Wallenta’s work does strike the proper note.
By the end of this book, the reader will still have questions, but will likely have enjoyed this. The King is the kind of “different graphic novel” that shows how diverse a storytelling medium comic books are. I applaud Rich Koslowski and his publisher and hope they can sell this both to the familiar audience for comics and to non-regulars who will find in The King a reason to read a comic.
Mr. Charlie #77 says that “The King” is available from your local comic book shop (Diamond Order Code: MAY053049) and in your local bookstores or online. It is also available directly from the publisher at topshelfcomix.com.