So to see it as the title of a graphic novel from the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Fatale / Kill or Be Killed) is a little unusual. But, coupled with the cover, it gives a clue as to the emptiness that lies at the heart of this tale.
First published in 2018, it tells the tale of Ellie, a troubled woman with a belief in the beauty of addiction in artists, and her encounters with Skip as they escape a drug rehabilitation clinic and hide out. Both are from dysfunctional backgrounds and both seem to get on well together. But, of course, things are never that simple.
Running under 80 pages, it deceives the reader into thinking that it has the potential to develop into a Badlands / Natural Born Killers style story with a loving couple taking on the world. Ultimately, it operates in a strange and unique place. It doesn't take the crime elements seriously, and the copulation/relationship between Ellie and Skip doesn't have the all or nothing intensity that is common with 'lovers on the run' stories and even the drug stories have an air of disinterest to them. However, the end effect is a kind of cynical, blasé outlook that veers close to self centred nihilism, but still has a kind of cotton candy feel to the whole story.
And, with that in mind, it becomes easier to be absorbed into this world.
One of the most common complaints about the book is that the characters are too shallow to anchor the story, which is something of a one note tale anyway. While I would have to agree with that, I do genuinely think that these issues are actually strengths.
By realising early on that these characters operate in a realm where they can be as self-absorbed and have such a distorted view of the world (Ellie has a distinct memory of her mother and friends shooting up heroin) that it's not surprising that they have little to no character development. They operate in a vacuum of self centeredness and studied hipness.
Visually, the book is a treat. Sean Phillips' artwork is always superb, but Jacob Phillips' colouring gives the tale a more glossy, fairytale feel. Maybe the contrast between these exuberant colours and the low key tale are the reasons for it's mixed reviews. Maybe, it's the case that the book reflects the title: filled with promise, brought down by selfishness.
To me, it's the equivalent of a big sounding, dumb pop track that sucks you in to the moment, but is easily discarded. You go along for the ride and, when the inevitable happens, you accept it and marvel at how you'd normally be pissed off at such an incident happening without clues. But hey, we're dealing with junkies as characters. What do you expect?
Unusual, but one to ponder over.
Ed Brubaker (Writer), Sean Phillips (Illustrator), Jacob Phillips (Colourist), 2018, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies. Image Comics ISBN-13: 978-1534308466
⏩Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.