Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon – Comic Review

Preacher, written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon between 1995 and 2000 was a vampire story I enjoyed and was very popular in its day though  it may not be so well-remembered.  The vampire of the story is Cassidy, one of the two companions of Jesse Custer, the titular preacher and protagonist of the story.

Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon – Comic Review

This Irish vampire is an ugly, drunken, brawling, foul-mouthed junkie. He dresses simply and shabbily, never stylishly, in a white t-shirt and denim jacket, and thinks the Goth scene is full of idiots. He is no Dracula or Nosferatu, and there’s nothing romantic about him. (He did read Dracula and thought it was pretty silly, but liked it because it helped him to understand what he was). He does the wrong thing time after time, lets people down, and takes advantage of his friends. He has drained the life of some of them, and not just by drinking their blood. He is charming in his way, and has a winning smile, and seems to make friends easily. But those only serve to allow people to trust him and accept him at first, even the fact that he’s a vampire. Though he seems at first to be one of the protagonists, he’s truly a villain, one of the most interesting and dangerous in Preacher.

Through the series, Cassidy is punished, sees the error of his ways, and tries to redeem himself, but it’s a losing battle. He ends up doing what Edward Cullen did in Twilight, but with far more drama and power – he takes a walk in the sunshine. The sun sheds its light on the dark places, and falls equally on the rich and the poor, the good and the bad. It bleaches, it bakes, it sterilizes, and can cause things either to flourish or wither. In Cassidy’s case, being a vampire, it sets him on fire and it burns him to death. He believes it will burn out the sin which he could not overcome by himself. In doing so he became the second villain of the series to kill himself in order to make things right, a morality which is more in line with that of, say, the Tokugawa shogunate than that of the modern-day America in which the story is set. What a notion for a comic book!

Preacher was a hugely popular comic, frequently finding itself in the top ten list with the likes of X-Men and Batman. Looking back, I’d say it was a key text of the Clinton era, a time when mainstream entertainment and especially comics was well on the road to ‘anything goes’; whether something was bad for readers was becoming a matter for the reader only and no-one else. It was one of many hits by DC/Vertigo in the 1990s, and existed in the time just before the internet really began to bloom into the ĉieaĵo it is today. For example, there was still a letters page in the back. Those were common in comics in those days, and they often added a lot to the enjoyment of a comic book.

Preacher was vulgar, violent, appalling, bloody, frequently disgusting, and blasphemous. But it had its own strong sense of genuine truth and justice, and I think that’s why it was so successful: Stand by your friends, keep your word, fight injustice, persevere no matter what, and do the right thing.

J Marc Schmidt

Sydney-born J Marc Schmidt is the creator of three graphic novels published by SLG Publishing, Egg Story, Eating Steve, and The Sixsmiths; the webcomic 3rd Blade, and a book of essays, Secrets of Popular Culture.J Marc currently lives in Japan.

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