Classic Fantastic is our series of features on the classics of the format — please check out our other picks for the most important titles, in terms of appeal, innovation, and storytelling, that every library should own.
What’s it about?
Jesse Custer is the hero of our tale. He’s simple preacher who has to save mankind from God. It wasn’t a fight he was looking for, but since the unholy union of a demon and an angel was shoved in his head, it’s a fight he’ll see to its finish. When you’re going to do battle with God, you need to make sure that you have good back up. So why not cast the supporting roles to your alcoholic vampire best friend and your gun-toting ex-girlfriend?
Preacher takes you through a gamut of settings. Sometimes the focus is Jesse’s tango with god, other times we’re in the middle of the Vietnam War, or of course we could be watching angels snort coke. The scope of Preacher is far ranging. While that might seem like it could stretch the imagination a bit much, Jesse is stalwart enough that we believe he could do it: take on God.
Jesse Custer is a different type of wish fulfillment for readers. He’s not leaping over buildings in a single bound, but he is the best of us. Brought up in the country, he has the best manners the American South can breed. He’ll always seek the good in people, and will protect the weak. And when an impossible problem is posed to him, he’ll stare it down. He’s the cowboy we all want to be, sans horse.
While Preacher is stuffed to the brim with social commentary, the real heart of it is the relationship between Jesse and that gun-crazed woman of his, Tulip. In a world that’s every kind of chaotic, they are the constant that keep each other sane. Their relationship is so strongly depicted across the entire series. It’s evident from the start that they’re supposed to love forever, but they have all the pitfalls and hubris that keeps a real couple fighting and coming back together again. No matter what else Preacher is about, Jesse and Tulip are the real reward to the reader.
By now, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon are written in the annals of comic history. They are frequent collaborators on projects, Preacher being a strong example of that partnership. There are 75 total Preacher issues, 66 of those make up the main story. Every one of those issues had Ennis’ and Dillon’s work in them.
Ennis is a premiere comic writer because he doesn’t shy away from controversial topics. Because of that, he usually challenges readers’ established perception of what comics are meant to be about. He sparingly works with caped heroes. One of his most infamous runs in a mainstream universe is his work (again with Dillon) on Marvel’s The Punisher. Even in a Big Two comic, Ennis brought the grit and grime he’s famous for, and guided one of The Punisher’s most successful runs.
Steve Dillon has a very unique art that matches Ennis’ stark writing perfectly. He has thin, practical lines, which denote character and background. There isn’t a lot of flair to his line, but it’s in the precision that the magic happens. When the script calls for a brawl or for an exploding head, it’s so instantly readable in Dillon’s style. And since Ennis’ writing can get out of hand quickly, a readable line is the audience’s best friend. Instantly, there’s whatever-Ennis-wants. If the reader should be sickened, or shocked, you feel it like a gut punch. More than just viscera, Dillon’s art can also easily let you understand the emotion of a character, be it a vengeful God or a scrappy hound.
Preacher will stand all tests of time. Just on premise alone, it’s well founded. It explores questions that everyone asks themselves about faith. There are the more concrete problems, like how religion bleeds into politics, and how it can blur moral issues. Then there are the huge, unanswerable, existential questions. What if God isn’t what we think? At its core, Preacher is an examination of faith and free will. No matter how you feel about Ennis’ execution, Preacher will make you think, and that is the greatest possible gift a work can give you.
The format of Preacher was also a big game changer in comics. Like it’s predecessors Swamp Thing and Sandman, Preacher swooped in and delivered this ragingly entertaining quest and smeared the definition of what a comic was in the process. Here was an individual comic with it’s own voice, that wasn’t a special mini-series, or a run meant to be a graphic novel. It was a long-form story that was allowed to play out as it needed to. The success of the format and content of Preacher established a lot of what we now see in the modern comic.
It does not matter who you are, Preacher will make you uncomfortable. It was made to talk about religion, politics and sex. One of the proud pillars of the book is that there is no topic too sacred, no line Ennis won’t cross. A common recurrence is exploration of sexual perversions and empowerment, which guarantees the ‘graphic’ in graphic novel. To be fair, the graphic nature of the work, be it physical or verbal, is in place to illustrate the seething evil in the antagonists. There are also love scenes depicted in the book, mostly of Jesse and Tulip, that are tender and thoughtful. In the best way, Preacher won’t shy away from any topic. While that might take you to some very, very, dark places, it also can transcend to some of the most heartfelt writing in comics.
Why should you own this?
Preacher expands what it means to be a comic book. It does it in a way that let’s readers be entertained, and disgusted, and contemplative. If you let it, it can be a transformative read, which is a very powerful thing to have on your shelves. If you’re so inclined, it’s very easy to amass the whole run in it’s nine collected trade paperbacks.
- Gone to Texas
- Until the End of the World
- Proud Americans
- Ancient History
- Dixie Fried
- War in the Sun
- All Hell’s A-Coming