Like a whole lot of other people, I was recently introduced to Preacher (about 10 years after its run finished) and have been working my way through it. Around the same time that I picked up the first book, I found out it was becoming an AMC show. If you’re reading this and you have seen either the show or the book but not both of them, you should know that already they’re pretty different from one another. And I mean that in the most neutral way possible.
So far, I like the show. So far, I like the comics. (Full disclosure: I have only read three of the six books as of writing this.) The comic and the show seem like they’re going to be apples and oranges, to a certain degree. Check them both out and you can see what I mean.
Jesse Custer is a preacher at a small church in a small town in rural Texas. He seems fairly normal for a Texan preacher—he values honesty, he loves John Wayne, and he enjoys his drink. Preacher opens with Jesse recounting the day that his life’s path took a sharp turn. One Saturday night, he got a little into his cups at the local diner and started mouthing off. Being a preacher, he has a good deal of dirt and gossip on his congregation. Who can blame him for venting a little? The next morning, there’s not an empty seat in the church. Everyone comes out to see if their man of the cloth was coming undone.
As he’s standing in the pulpit fumbling with the beginning of a sermon, a great ball of light flies in the door, collides with Jesse, and levels his church in the process. Enter Tulip and Cassidy. The two of them had been driving nearby when they saw the explosion and decided to investigate. While he’s running away from whatever the hell that was, Jesse runs into Tulip who just happens to be his ex-girlfriend. This is where Jesse begins his quest to find God with a little help from his friends.
Garth Ennis, who also wrote for Hellblazer and Judge Dredd, arguably likes to see his protagonists oscillate between stoic and pensive, and Jesse Custer does a fine job walking that line. While Jesse is undeniably the main character, Ennis takes his time giving depth to the supporting roles, too. Taking the time to develop those characters adds a layer of depth to the story that I don’t feel like you get when you have secondary characters who are just sort of there without established motives.
Though the dialogue does its fair share of work to set the tone and give a sense of who the characters are, Steve Dillon’s illustrations work just as hard. One of my favorite things about Preacher is the illustration that accompanies the start of each new chapter. Sneers seem to be Dillon’s favorite thing to capture from the characters in these scenes. Giant shit-eating grins that make you feel like they’re waiting for you to see the punchline to some dark joke. Often times, that’s exactly what it ends up being.
Dillon’s illustration style is undoubtedly part of what makes Preacher feel like the storyboards for a Tarantino film. Faces that look like they’ve been chiseled out of wood, smoldering gazes to match the slow-burning cigarettes that basically everyone smokes, grotesque details in every violent scene to give them a little more gravity. It’s great. If you’re someone who enjoys that sort of thing, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
I don’t want to give too much of Preacher’s narrative away. What you need to know is that this has earned the popularity and praise that its received. Having a protagonist who’s a chain- smoking alcoholic badass man of the cloth who’s also bent on doing the right thing is a pretty radical setup for a story. And it makes for an entertaining one. I can’t imagine where the journey is headed but I certainly cannot wait to see. I’ll be picking up the rest of the series this week and will be back soon to share my feelings on the rest.
The entire series of Preacher can be bought on Comixology.