“There’s reading comics and then there’s reading comics” — Chris Coplan, 2019
Because of my especially fortunate position at AiPT!, I am able not only to get books early (excuse the ~Humble Brag~), but also interview writers and artists of various books/series. On the one hand, I’m a firm believer that these interactions are more about fun than essential context; a great title can stand on its own legs in engaging readers. But then a book like Meyer comes along, and all your assumptions get questioned.
Part of the excellent H1 imprint, Meyer is the brainchild of a writer Jonathan Lang (Feeding Ground) and artist Andrea Mutti (Batman Eternal). The premise is simple enough: a fictionalized version of ’30s gangster Meyer Lansky teams up with a half-Cuban/half-Jewish orderly named David Greene to pull off a late-in-life con before heading to all mobster’s final reward (not cement shoes). Were that it, Meyer would be an entertaining book. It’s got a great sense of rhythm, plenty of heart and humor, and it perfectly rides that line between fact and fiction to engage readers.
But at the same time, it’s a common enough tale, and as such, there’s some level of predictability, especially toward the grand finale. That’s not to say it’s not deeply affecting, or that “broadcasting” your story can’t be deeply comforting. Rather, they’re not breaking new ground in any immediate sense.
Instead, the real delight began after I got to pick Lang’s brain a little, and better understand the depths and sentiements that went into the book. While my first reading was fairly straightforward, a post-interview run through found me enjoying even more of Meyer. Interviews don’t always happen (or get read), but they’re a worthwhile way to better understand a story.
Among Lang’s many revelations, it’s clear that he deeply loves the Lansky character. It’s his interest and thoughtful approach to his “myth” that really shines bright. Part of that is tied to Lansky’s Jewish roots, and Meyer is a great exploration of how that Judaism shapes Lansky’s deeds and overall worldview. It’s one thing to think he’s just an old man looking for lost glory, but viewed through the lens of his inherent place in the world as a Jew, we see how that’s perpetually cast him as an outsider. In turn, some of that contextualizes his rather, um, unique career path. And voilà: making a character with actual aspirations and subtext.
As an extension of that, Judaism is a huge link between Lansky and the much younger Greene, this lingua franca that bypasses racial or generational differences to align the characters and give them this unique emotional and historical space to explore. Not all of that is apparent without Lang’s commentary, but once you know what to look out for, it’s easy to see the pure love and devotion the characters experience from this bond. He deeply wants to provide them an opportunity to expand and define themselves in a really tight space, and he does just that with wit and grace.
In past interviews, other creators haven’t always been as forthcoming, which makes sense: it’s hard to address questions when you’ve spent month or years crafting the actual story. But Lang does an effective job of letting readers in. Whether it’s creating a totally killer playlist for the book, or mentioning influences of Robert K. Merton’s Strain Theory of Deviance or Matz’s The Killer, we get a unique insight into the creator. I understand the way he sees the world, and the things that drive him. More importantly, how all of that informs the work within Meyer. These are characters and settings that have been stewing and percolating for sometime, and there’s an both an inherent intensity (both emotionally and intellectually) just as much as a truly earnest quality.
It’s via the lens of Lang’s interests (aside from Judaism) that best shows the care and passion that went into structuring this world. And once you know that, it’s easy to fall in love with some of these characters, to delve into them in new ways to better understand why they do what they do (crime) and why they feel validated (whether or not that’s true). Understanding that makes it all that much easier to occupy the world.
Without getting all High Fidelity, the things we consume are a huge deal, and that’s true for creators as they show us a world that is both familiar and comforting while trying to break new creative ground. Meyer isn’t a revelation, but then perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. It’s very clear this is Lang’s love letter to a people and to things in the world he values. Whether or not you’d do the same with these “parts,” it’s all assembled in a way to make something unlike far greater than its many components.
Lang reveals that this book is ultimately about legacy, and how we cement ourselves (or not). To some degree, Meyer is now part of that larger legacy for Lang, and it’s one that delves into simple truths. Like, how the bonds we share with others are as unpredictable as the winds, and these connections may be superficial, but they’re nonetheless valuable. Or, that suffering is a part of life, and from that good things can actually be born. Knowing Lang, even really superficially, feels like peering into a whole span of lifetimes, and Meyer is a wonderful encapsulation of all that, even if said discovery takes time and patience.
While I couldn’t interview Mutti, Lang still makes a key point regarding the art, explaining the its grit helps “buy the reality of [a] world” populated by his “over-the-top” characters. On the one hand, that makes sense, and it’s a great commentary on the art-writing interplay. But given the whole motif of delving deeper, it’s also keen insight about the book itself. Namely, the way in which reality and fiction depend on one another, and how life and history can’t exist without some level of story and hyperbole. To a major extent, that’s Meyer in a nutshell: the ephemera of life crashing headlong into veins of magic, creating something that unfolds as would any person’s lifespan.