Book review: Rex Royd, by Frankie Boyle, Mike Dowling and Budi Setiawan

Rex Royd
Rex Royd
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Controversial may as well be Frankie Boyle’s first name. He has built a career on presenting himself as an iconoclast, shocking at every opportunity. And if that’s your sort of thing, his first foray into comic books won’t have disappointed when it debuted in 2011 in Titan Comics’ CLiNT (geddit?) anthology.

Boyle and artist Mike Dowling’s decidedly Not Safe For Work strip ran for seven chapters without concluding. Now, Boyle has completed the project with another collaborator, Budi Setiawan, and the whole thing is collected in graphic novel form.

For all the sense the final two chapters make, it’s hard to tell Rex Royd has ended; as with the preceding material, Boyle bounces from weird moment to weirder moment, with the common denominator being Rex Royd, “the Renaissance Man of Madness.” A businessman and evil genius, he lives to kill superheroes. But who is he really?

There are some compelling ideas in here, chief among them Boyle’s meditation on “stress” vs “unhappiness” and “optimism” vs “thinking.” I laughed at his low opinion of journalists, too, and his thoughts on comic books – Boyle literally inserts himself into the final chapter – bear consideration, even if they’re not exactly original.

There’s a gleeful energy to the pace of the script by Boyle and, in the first two chapters, Jim Muir, and the art by Dowling, Setiawan and colourists Jamie Grant and Tracy Bailey has a straightforward dynamism that complements the script. There are some decent barbs thrown at James Bond, Superman and the Fantastic Four. But all the sex and drugs nonsense (this is not a book for fans of Narnia) gets a tad dull, seemingly there more in a bid to shock the Daily Mail than serve the narrative. And the refusal to stick with a line of thought makes Rex Royd seem not so much a comic as a long-form ad for Ritalin. In his introduction, Boyle says: “Whenever the artists had a query about a bit of the script, the answer was almost always the same: ‘It’s supposed to be a joke’.” If you have to explain that, perhaps the joke isn’t working.

The disjointed narrative is deliberate; Boyle wants to evoke the feeling he had as a kid when he’d miss a few issues of his favourite picture paper, rejoin the story and everything had gone in a weird direction. The problem here is that things don’t make sense within the individual instalments.

CLiNT was the pet project of mega-successful Glasgow comics writer and thoroughly nice chap Mark Millar, and Rex Royd, with its postmodern cynicism and art school nihilism, seems calculated to please his fans, the kids who really loved Kick Ass and Wanted.

If that’s you, or if you want to see Irish comedian Martin Mor in a comic, or enjoy folk being slaughtered as a punchline, don’t miss this.

Rex Royd, by Frankie Boyle, Mike Dowling and Budi Setiawan, Titan Books, 112pp, £16.99