Mar 4 2015
Kowloon Walled City, floating through human history. The urban deity, poisoning modernist dreams, inspiring artists with cracked, fabular grandiosity, its decadent ghetto opulence broodingly immortal. The city where the brainsick, paranoid hallucinations of civil engineers seem to take flight, soaring through cavernous damaged structures held up by some mystical force, colored in a gassy neon haze, seen through absinthe, tumbling endlessly into the sky, embracing and collapsing on its citizenry at every turn. The building forest.
It is a compelling, horrible/beautiful setting for a story about children. It’s been used before, manipulated for its almost easily unsettling grandeur, yet its claustrophobia is somehow always welcome. Maybe it’s because we don’t yet understand what it meant, 20 years ago at its destruction, or within a century or more of life teeming within its borders.
City of Walls, a new Red Stylo Media comic by Shaun Noel, A.K. Lovelace & other contributors, signifies the Kowloon Walled City history, interpreting this vision as a damp yet steadfast cage, trapping its mashed residents and their fantasies of escape. My first inclination is to call it sci-fi, though it’s become hard for me to distinguish between the actual inspiration and its inspired works. Which is telling, as the actual history is amply fit with its own mythos, and mythologizing it has become somewhat common, though not rote, per se. The tale is about young people, brushing against the city’s populace, especially a connected pair whose friendship is bonded through storytelling, fears and dreams. They are presented to us as Kowloon’s guides, though there is little in the way of romanticizing its qualities, and the city seems as much a playground as a hostile tomb for their escapist desires.
The final product hammers in its dark vision early and often. Although the imagery is noirish, it is continually reinterpreted and presented anew by its young main characters. When the art style changes to Daniel’s fanciful tale to Jin about pilots (a visual highlight), we follow the protagonists as their dim, realistic surroundings transform into the film-reel of fiction, accompanied by a bright new palette with lighting that does not exist anywhere else in the story. Lovelace’s moody lighting and lantern-lit colors contrast with the faces of Kowloon’s laughing children, though the tone is fairly somber.
The details are definitely key, such as the swirling Billie song that introduces its otherwise silent pages, swirling into and out of a bodega radio. Or when Jin’s mother recommends that she walk Daniel back home because it’s late, exemplifying the comic’s unique take on gender-roles. Truly, Jin is the hardened, pragmatic mechanic, whilst Daniel’s dreamy, distracted imagination recommends accompaniment down Kowloon’s violent streets.
City of Walls ends abruptly, as there is much in the way of world-building to be further established for this comic, which seeks to tell a private, mature story. This is not merely the Kowloon that inspired multiple works of fiction, but perhaps the Kowloon that actually was. Further entries will decide whether Noel and Lovelace hit their ambitious mark, though this is a strong start.