LEGAL SHENANIGANS? NO! LEGAL SKULLDUGGERY!
As some of you readers may have noticed, the column has been on a bit of hiatus for the past few months. I hope to rectify that in the next few weeks. Don’t think that, this being a column on the last day of the year, that I am making a New Year’s Resolution. Far from it. I’m not big on resolving things. I like life open ended. I do what I can. That’s it. Plus, I am renewing my resolution from last year, namely to eat more chicken and waffles. I only succeeded twice on that account in 2015. 2016 promises to be me much more promising. My veins are coursing for it even as I type. But be warned, there will be more words here.
A few month ago I reviewed the book BIRDSTACKING TOME ONE: GRAYHAT from Jason Beirens and noted he had teased that the next Birdstacking project would be a legal noir piece. A few weeks ago, an advance copy of the first two issues of SKULLDUGGERY: A LEGAL FICTION mysteriously appeared in my email box. Under the auspices of a mysterious raven under a streetlamp on a snow street sign for a cover, I downloaded and began reading.
SKULLDUGGERY is an entirely different animal, if you will pardon the pun, than the previous GRAYHAT. Where the previous title had been set in the Birdstacking equivalent of the old West, this story takes place in an all too modern world of skyscrapers and the modern world. Gunslingers have given way to attorneys. The talking animals are still there, but now they’re criminals and bailiffs and short order cooks. The magic that was so prevalent before have given way to hints, not as apparent as before. Gone are the lush landscapes of the forests to be replaced with dark alleys and dead end streets, to piers and courtrooms. Beirens shows himself to be equally adept at cityscapes as he is at forestscapes. The brilliant hues of greens with their bright slashes of red have given way to an array of blues, from deep almost black and grey to vivid lurid electrics. Even the day seems permeated by this Miles Davis ennui. Beirens again manifests a real mastery of the palette.
Which is not to take away from the pencils of the first two issues of SKULLDUGGERY. Beirens brings some real strong work to the face of the protagonist, the Judge, who literally is a judge in the city court system. Even Maggie, the raven on the cover, takes on some real personality in the pencil work. Not just the dialogue, but the beak expressions, for want of a better way to phrase it, are amazing. My personal favorite is the Sherlock Holmes/Doc Savage dog with a hint of Nero Wolfe that shows up at the beginning of the second issue. With little dialogue and instead some sharp visual storytelling, Beirens brings him into focus, and made me want to know more about him, even as he steered the story elsewhere. Where before the influence of Mœbius could definitely be seen in many of the designs and panel work, here, and perhaps intensified by the modern day setting, Beirens work really reminds me of the Norwegian artist Jason. Jason for a Jason, as they might say. The deceptively simple line of his anthropomorphic faces evokes a real pathos, and yes, humanity, even for those faces simply in the background. Paired with a more Jack Cole, bigfoot cartoonish style for the Judge and the human characters than was seen in GRAYHAT, the two meld together to create a perfect, insular world.
And that’s really what SKULLDUGGERY is, its own insular noir world. The Judge is haunted by something, perhaps a past not yet revealed. Every corner, every angle, and yes, every color, seems to box him in further as he tries to unravel the crimes ripping through his city. There are the blimps that permeate the skies of the city, always above, floating silently, their eyes on everything. As Maggie the raven watches as well. With her own secrets. There is no escape in this city. Just one more trapping mechanism. Beirens does a really excellent job of capturing and keeping that feeling, even as he includes both romantic and comedic interplay. The noir world is never forgotten, as much as the Judge would like to pretend it has been.
The mark is, as always, whether you want to continue following the story, whether you want to know what’s around the corner, what’s down that dark alley, where it will all end. And just like Grayhat in his book, the Judge here is a likeable, moral man who is struggling to make his world better. SKULLDUGGERY is a tight, contained piece, and I want to know where it will go. I want to find out more about the Judge, Maggie, and the delightful Ms. Whimsy Noir.
Beirens plans to open a Kickstarter for SKULLDUGGERY in early January. Check out his blog at http://birdstacking.tumblr.com/ for further updates on its status and for glimpses into Beirens art and the weltgeist behind Birdstacking. It’s well worth the time.
As for the upcoming year, there will be reviews. I’ve got a few books lined up that I want to delve into. Part of the slow down here has been my own freelance writing career taking off. I will throw up a few more columns focused on my writing and on the writing process. And drop me a line here, let me know what you would like to see come as well.