An apt title for this violent and often hilarious take on popular culture and commercialism, Jorg Tittel’s Ricky Rouse Has A Gun offers an emotionally resonant tale beneath its parody-esque carnage.
The story focuses on Richard Rouse, a former soldier who treks from war-torn Afghanistan to Shanghai after discovering his wife has, in her words, “fallen out of love with [him]”. He finds some soul-sucking factory work, but after getting fired finds work in a Disney-themed amusement park called Fengxian. Copied from western culture icons, including Crazy Birds, Caribbean Pirates, and Kangaroo Jocks, Richard dons the persona of Ricky Rouse a mascot “built on the past, designed for the future – a Chinese original”.
The plot itself bears more than a whiff of Die Hard after the amusement park becomes a battleground when American terrorists show up and capture the park’s customers – including Richard’s ex and their daughter. But this story is more than a love letter to Bruce Willis; it’s a glorious, malevolently played out pastiche of the consumption of popular culture. The park’s owner, Hucheng, comes across as flatly refusing to believe his creations are rip-offs of western styles, and lambasts the manner in which Hollywood recycles the same format. He instead believes his work to be total originals – Chinese originals.
And indeed, there’s some originality in his creations, it’s hard to imagine kids adoring Ricky Rouse over his American counterpart, mostly due to Ricky’s frozen eyes and hideously comic smile. Hucheng’s notion of Hollywood recycling reigns true when the Americans bear down on the amusement park. The character suits (Ricky Rouse, Ronald Ruck, Ratman) are nearly all worn by the Americans, while the Chinese characters fill the roles of security, police, and army personnel – save for Ricky’s throwaway lover Jing-Wei. It’s as if the Chinese are punishing the Americans for their constant churning out of the same Hollywood format.
John Aggs’ artwork highlights the immediacy of the comic impact. Crisply drawn and brightly coloured, the page in which gunslinger Ricky Rouse informs the Americans that ‘the rouse is in the house’, complete with silhouetted Rouse, eyes blood-red, and gun-bearing is particularly engulfing for the reader.
Ricky Rouse Has A Gun is a brilliant read, one that entertains to deadly effect. Richard himself is an amusing enough hero, channelling the John McClaine persona of a lone hero battling against incredible odds. Yet Ricky Rouse Has A Gun stands apart from such comparisons, thanks to the Rouse himself. Throughout the thrilling finale, Richard fights his way through the terrorists in his Ricky Rouse costume, adding a comic touch of excitement to the story. This, combined with the resonant message of popular culture and its consumption/transformation results in a fantastic graphic novel.
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