Transmetropolitan: The Comic For People Who Hate Comics

29 July 2014 by 15 Comments

There was a time in my life when comics weren’t appealing. I know, people who know me in real life are shocked to hear it too. Comics just seemed pointless. Sure, the art was nice in the superhero ones, and the lighter ones were funny, but they held no substance. I’d read comic strips in the daily paper and that was that. Then I met this guy:


He keeps the two headed smoking cat, because who wouldn’t?

I mean, I didn’t meet Spider Jerusalem in the street or anything. That would have been full of too much awesome, and improbable as he is a fictional character. He is not a superhero, or a magician or anything special. He is a journalist who seeks to tell the truth in a world of media manipulation. He is the anti-hero in Vertigo Comics Transmetropolitan series.

Spider lives in The City, a futuristic world where technology reigns supreme. When sees advertisements and important news bulletins on the street, the sidewalk will become a teleprompter, as will every billboard and sign, just to make sure the story is heard. Spider often suffers from “ad blasting,” when an ad is force-subliminal rendering the viewer dumb, and Spider will take a nap. He can easily get drugs to cure this problem, as his apartment is equipped with a Maker, which can make anything, were it not addicted to the drugs it creates.  (A list of the drugs mentioned can be found here. I guess it is supposed to be offensive or something.)

Spider has a great disdain for the world he lives in. He is the best and worst of everyone at once. He says the things we wish we could say. The story opens with Spider receiving a phone call from his editor, Royce, reminding him there is an approaching deadline. Royce needs an 8,000 word column and, “it needs to be more than just the word ‘fuck’ eight thousand times.” Spider takes a walk to see if he can find anything worth writing about, thereby introducing us to a city buried in political and ethical corruption; it has forgotten it is made of people.

Spider is not just a reluctant hero, he’s an anti-hero. He is Hunter S.  Thompson, in the effing future. He has two assistants: Channon, a stripper-turned-nun-turned bodyguard, and Yelena, his editor’s niece. Channon is aware of the dirty evils of the world, Yelena is not, and Spider wants to expose all of the truths. He has a chair leg he will use to beat the truths out of someone if necessary. He is the current embodiment of gonzo journalism, a type of reporting where the reporter puts themselves in the story, creating a unique first-person perspective.

After reading (and re-reading) the series, I always wonder how close we are to living like The City. When I go shopping, there are screens around running commercials for products that are nearby on the shelves. Driving down the freeway, I see multiple animated billboards. How soon before those have audio? We all know about subliminal advertising, but how long before it attacks our conscious, forcing us to collapse? These things are real in Spider’s world, and the politicians know how to use those tools. Will ours begin to as well? Will we find a real life Spider Jerusalem before they do?

Also? Transmetropolitan is complete, which is great. I dislike long series. Stretching a story through multiple arcs and novels often wears the plot thin. It’s annoying. The first story was published in 1997, the last in 2002, so you don’t have to worry about getting tangled in a life commitment with a fictional world (Robert Jordan I’m looking at you).

Do you have any comics recommendations for people who don’t like comics? Leave them in the comments below!


Karalea enjoys talking about books, comics, manga, anime and anything else she finds interesting. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @kl614born. She's studying to get her MLIS because libraries are pretty spiffy places to hang out.

15 thoughts on “Transmetropolitan: The Comic For People Who Hate Comics

  1. I adore Spider Jerusalem and his filthy assistants. When a friend was introducing me to comics, I read Watchmen, then I read Sandman, and then I read this. Transmetropolitan is brilliant and hilarious and incisive. I thought of it last week when I was at O’Hare airport – I went into the ladies’ room and they have transparent commercials that play on the mirrors over the sinks – you can see yourself, but your reflection is overlaid by an ad. I watched one for Xbox Live while touching up my lipstick and it was a surreal “the future is here” moment.

    • Wow. That is surreal…and slightly disturbing. I was in a hotel room once that had a mini TV screen built into the mirror, across from the toilet. It was funny and weird at the same time.

      • Both of those moments are surreal. That is just too much video invading my space.

        Why was the tv in the bathroom? In case you forgot your smart phone?

        • LOL, yep XD …though I suppose it could be fun to watch TV from the bathtub, assuming you can see it from there. Wouldn’t want to drop your cellphone in the tub.

          Still, it’s pretty weird.

  2. Yikes, that poor cat is creepy-looking! Does he/she get a name? I do love how Spider calls it “gengineered”…sort of indicates just how common and advanced the practice has become by that point.

    I’m just waiting for the day when we actually have holo-screens that we can manipulate in mid-air, like in Minority Report

    As for comic recs, I really like the Castle Waiting series by Linda Medley (it’s a string of reworked/parodied fairytales that make up one long story that emphasizes strong female characters. So far, there are two complete volumes) and Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi (I really like the idea of a graphic memoir; it really helps get across a child’s p.o.v., for instance, when Satrapi is describing events from when she was 6 – 12 years old. And she has a way of using humor to explain political and religious concepts, and at the same time shows how much more complex the situation is than just Villainous Government/Religious Institution vs. Helpless Victims).

    • The cat never gets named, but it becomes Spider’s pet. It smokes and inhales in one face and out the other. Gengineered is just short for genetically engineered. It’s a word I can see being slowing incorporating into our language.

      Persepolis sounds interesting. Sometimes memoirs work better in graphic form. Art can really help to propel a story. Many people seem to miss that.

  3. Two 7 enjoyed, probably aimed at younger people are Don Brown The Great American Dustbowl and Nick Bertozzi Shackleton Antarctic Odyssey. Wasn’t so taken with Lewis and Clark, though I did learn something. But I suppose, for me, nothing comes close to MAUS

    • MAUS was when I first really saw what art can add to a written work. Those pig masks had a greater impact than any of the words.

  4. I totally second that comment about MAUS – have you looked at Speigelman’s ‘In the Shadow of No Towers’? That is an intense read. He’s got a beautiful knack for illustrating those moments just before impending disaster (and I mean that in a literary illustration mode as well as an… actual illustrations mode).

    I guess, if I was going to recommend a comic to someone who doesn’t like comics… well, of course, it would really depend on how well I knew the person! For capes, early Spiderman; for story-driven, Transmetropolitan; for mad-good art American Vampire.

    But… I personally always come back to the Locas cycle (‘Maggie the Mechanic’, ‘The Girl from H.O.P.P.E.R.S’ and ‘Perla la Loca’), which are part of the overall Love and Rockets comic. The characters are super well written, and its got a really mad blend of fantasy and reality.

    • You said exactly the problem I had with comics; capes. It was all flying heroes with comical, or super scientific, powers. While the stories may have been amazing, getting past the capy-ness was difficult.

      I need to check out more of Speigelman’s work. American Vampire sounds interesting as well.

  5. To recommend a superhero series, I would say Frank Miller’s “Wolverine” miniseries from the 1980s. Sure, there’s punching and some hero-y stuff, but it’s not about punching – it’s about obligation and honor. I stopped reading superhero stuff a while ago (I turned old enough to want meatier things as well as the stories becoming far less complex), but I read this recently and it still held up.

    “Persepolis” 1 and 2 are both really cool and interesting reads as well. Satrapi’s art is minimal, but it still packs a lot of punch within the story.

  6. Don’t remember the author, but there’s a GN out there called “Blankets” that I enjoyed very much. That and I will never stop singing the praises of “Locke and Key” from Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.

  7. Never been to this site before, followed some links to an article about flower vaginas. Check out the home page and what do I see? A review of my favorite comic ever.

    I think I’m going to like it here.

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