The name Rick Veitch might strike a chord if you're a big fan of graphic novels (or "comics," if you must label them so). Known for his work on titles like Swamp Thing and The Maximortal, Veitch has earned a reputation as an iconoclast in the field, a rep enhanced by frequent collaborations with Alan Moore, the patron saint of iconoclasts for graphic novel artists/writers. In any case, Veitch has taken another step toward cementing his reputation with his latest, Can't Get No, published under DC Comics' Vertigo label.
The plot follows Chad Roe, a marketing executive for Eter-No-Mark, which makes a permanent marker that really is permanent. Under a barrage of lawsuits from graffiti victims, the company implodes. To deal with this, Roe gets mind-bogglingly wasted and hooks up with two artists, who tattoo him all over (yes, all over) with his markers while he's passed out. At first horrified, he soon becomes exhilarated by his newfound artistic value—as well as the ganja and menage a trois he shares with them—and the three of them drive off. While at a truck stop, they get busted for weed, and as he's hiding from the cops, he sees two airplanes fly by minutes apart, heading for the World Trade Center. From there, the story takes a more somber turn, as Roe wanders across America, finding violence and sympathy in turn, discovering compassion and humanity he didn't know he, or anyone else, had. This is a lengthy plot summary, but it doesn't even begin to detail the events or impact of the story, which is one of Veitch's triumphs.
However, what makes the novel of great interest to readers and graphic novel fans alike is not so much the plot as the approach Veitch takes. There is no conventional dialogue or word balloons in the story at all; other than the narration that runs more or less parallel to the pictures (more on that later), the only words that appear are written material that the characters read, or that appears in the background. Thus, Can't Get No is one of the few graphically portrayed stories that rely solely on the art to relay the story arc and character developments.
And what art it is. Veitch, who did double duty on this work, excels at detailed work that retains an impressionistic feel. His characters and settings look real without the hyper-sharp shadows and lines that many artists presently favor, and without the blocky, almost primitive style artists such as Frank Miller use. As a result, the events and spatial organizations are always clear, leaving Veitch free to explore the emotional content of the story. His ability to capture subtle emotional expressions in characters' faces, particularly a gentle Lebanese couple Roe befriends, is astounding.
If there are any real issues to be found with the novel, ironically, it's in the words themselves. The narration that Veitch uses is intended to be poetic and somewhat mythic, seeking to create a satiric contrast between the world depicted in Veitch's black-and-white art and the observations being made. Instead, it reads as overly strained and way too purple, like a bastard cross between H.P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury. Not only is it clunky, but it's unnecessary, as Veitch's magnificent drawings need no help. Fortunately, the narrative word spaces are small, and can be ignored, leaving the reader free to concentrate on the important stuff. In a field that flowers with astonishing skill, Can't Get No is an example of the best the field has to offer.