Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Casebook of Bryant and May [comics]

Christopher Fowler's Bryant and May are two of my very favourite fictional detectives, and now they're starring in their own comic. I actually won my copy back in March, when Christopher Fowler was giving it away to the first person to get several questions right – any avid reader of his books could have done it, but I was fastest!

The bulk of the hardback comic is 'The Soho Devil', written by Christopher Fowler and drawn by Keith Page.

At first I wasn't taken with Page's thin-lines-and-watercolour style of artwork. (I was one of the few who was appalled when 2000AD got more colourful back in the late 1980s; I always preferred Glenn Fabry's clean, monochrome artwork for Slaine to Simon Bisley's sea of bright blue plus muddy browns – which is a long way of saying: colour in comics, not my thing.) Anyway, Page's style had grown on me by the time I reached the end of the book. Under the colour, there's an economy of line and a firm grasp of what he wants each character to look like; every face is identifiable in every frame, and full of expression. There's a shorter story, 'The Severed Claw', set in 1967, at the end of the book, and even I, who have mild prosopagnosia, can identify the real-world celebrities at the party from the way they're drawn. Some of Fowler's characters didn't look like I pictured them, but that's going to be the case with any novel that gets turned into a more visual form – artists or casting directors will always have a different idea from each reader what a character looks like. What matters is that they always looked consistent and individual. All the members of the PCU apart from the DuCaine brothers feature, and with remarkably little space for elaboration Fowler and Page bring their differing personalities out.

Another of Page's strengths his depiction of places. Real-world locations around London are easily identifiable, but so are the ones Fowler creates in the novels. The PCU offices contain all the bizarre books and esoteric kipple they do in the novels. I was especially pleased to see Crippen, the cat, lurking in a few frames, and Bryant's car covered in flower stickers.

You'll have fun reading the
titles of Bryant's books
The characters are very much the Bryant and May of Fowler's supernatural-free crime novels, but a chunk of the 'Soho Devil'  plotline is taken from his 1998 horror novel Soho Black. The death of a drug dealer, in a phone box filled with butterflies, leads the Peculiar Crimes Unit on a chase to save seven criminals before a mysterious flying vigilante kills them all off. It's a great story, though, proper Bryant and May, and I won't spoil it for you, but I will say no other detectives would ever be chased round Nelson's Column by an angry rhino.

As well as the two comic strips, there's a very good piece by Christopher Fowler on 'How Do You Invent a Mystery Series?', which I really enjoyed. It's always fascinating to hear where writers find their inspiration.

There's also a book-by-book breakdown of the novels – not the earlier horror ones, which the two detectives do pop up in, but the full-on crime novels from Full Dark House onwards. That might tempt you to read the novels if you haven't already got them, but I'm not entirely sure what use it is to someone familiar with the series, although the full-page artwork alongside each synopsis is nice.

Then there's the PCU Sketch Gallery: brief biographies of each character, with three sketches. That was a really nice idea, although I'd have preferred it with more information about each character, perhaps with something new or fairly unfamiliar from Christopher Fowler on each one. Also, my day job involves sub-editing, and if I sent something to press with differing font sizes, the wrong biography for one person and another person being given one wrong portrait, I'd get my backside kicked, if not my P45. The sketch gallery is the one shoddy element in the whole volume. Fortunately, it's far from the most important, so I shouldn't let that put you off buying the book if the rest sounds like your sort of thing.

I do wish this was a paperback, in a similar format to the Professor Elemental comic. It's fun. It should be easily portable, something to enjoy on a train or a long journey, or between lessons, not a coffee table book. However, as it is a hardback, it would make a very good gift for a teen who thinks they're not into books – it'd certainly lure them in to reading the Bryant and May novels.

You can buy the Casebook of Bryant and May direct from the publisher. (I'm not getting anything for that link, but as the book isn't available on Amazon or in bookshops, you might have trouble finding it.)

If you want to read more of my comics reviews, click on 'Comics' in the tagcloud (right) or at the bottom of this post.

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