A Small Killing
by Alan Moore; Art by Oscar Zarate
1994 Eisner Winner for Best Graphic Album: New
I have been thinking about how my reaction to the Eisner winners has been generally positive and why that is. When it came to Hugos, Nebulas, and the World Fantasy Award my reactions to the winners was a lot more varied. Am I letting flaws pass in Eisner winners more than the others? Perhaps a bit thanks to some forgiveness of genre conventions, though I do try to point out when that's the case. Could it be that the panel that decides the Eisner winners is less politicized than the groups that select the other awards? I doubt that's a major factor though there seems to be less of a tendency to select a winner based on their career instead of the nominated work when it comes to the Eisners.
So I was worried that I might be too kind hearted to a medium that I have some affinity for when I read A Small Killing and it helped alleviated those fears. I disliked it. I didn't hate it; it isn't something that worked me up into a frothing rage. I just through that the story wasn't told well, the characters weren't interesting, and the art was flat.
There is a yuppie who has risen to the top of the advertising industry. As he prepares to leave to handle the biggest contract his firm has ever had this yuppie is being stalked by a child in schoolboy's uniform. The child who only turns up when no one else is around (and winds up being exactly who you'd think it would be from this brief descriptions) is trying to kill the yuppie. As the yuppie goes home he thinks back through his life and the changes it went through.
This story is as subtle as an elephant in a wading pool. The story of a man who had once been a good person but was corrupted by the world is common enough but this exact situation wasn't fresh or new when A Small Killing was published. He's an advertising man which has been used a storytelling shortcut over and over to tie someone to consumerist society. The "good" people in the story are the ones who make handcrafted art; again lazy shorthand that's been done many times in these stories. You know that the yuppie was once a good person because when he was in college he wrote a play about Che Guevara. That one isn't a common shorthand mainly because being that clumsy with your characterization could never gain much traction.
Moore tries to tell the story of the small compromises that people make through their lives but he fails to actually show this except by sloppy implication. "Oh, he used to make anti-apartheid posters," the reader is supposed to say. "He must have been a better person then before falling to that ugly thing." Of course this precludes the possibility that he continued making anti-apartheid posters. The main character getting a job at an advertising agency doesn't equal "selling out" unless you hold intractable views on that. Without showing clear transitions between periods of his life it falls apart.
Zarate's artwork was a mixed bag for me. A Small Killing is a painted book and I liked how he used some garish colors to make certain scenes stand out. But his use of perspective made every scene seem flat as a pancake. I'm sure it was an intentional choice but that doesn't make it pleasant to look at.
The only thing that I took away from A Small Killing is Alan Moore hates yuppies. Hating yuppies as a concept was stale in 1993 and hasn't aged well. This is a book that I think can only really be enjoyed if you'd read it nodding your head to Moore beat and I'm just not part of the choir he's preaching to.