Staying at home due to COVID is the perfect time to catch up on reading. Here are two primo graphic novels I practically inhaled this week:
“The Neil Gaiman Library” Vol. 1 hardcover, Dark Horse Books, $49.99
Normally an anthology is hit-or-miss, but this one is written entirely by geek royalty Neil Gaiman, which is surefire. And the art, while covering a wide range of styles, never veers into the unpalatable.
This book is the first in a series collecting the Gaiman stories adapted to comics (the second is already being solicited for Nov. 24). There are four stories, all of them well-developed stand-alones, all of them obvious examples of a master of his craft.
Here are some thoughts on the first, “A Study in Emerald.” It’s taken from a subsection of genre fandom I didn’t know existed, of stories that combine Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes with H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos.
Which is, on the surface, preposterous. Sherlock stories were entirely rational, whereas Lovecraft’s milieu was madness and magic. The Holmes stories were set in the late Elizabethan and Edwardian eras in London, whereas Lovecraft wrote in the 1920s and ’30s, with most of his tales set in New England.
But I’ll be darned if it doesn’t work magnificently. “A Study in Emerald” is, of course, a riff on the first published Holmes story, “A Study in Scarlet.” The emerald is blood, but obviously not human blood, and London’s master detective and his literary sidekick must track down the killer.
“Blacksad Collected Stories” trade paperback, Dark Horse Books, $29.99
Yes, another anthology. And another one cooking on all cylinders.
John Blacksad is a hard-boiled private detective, a two-fisted gumshoe plying his trade in late 1950s New York. This is cinematic noir at its Mickey Spillaniest, with corrupt institutions, amoral politicians, femme fatales and sleazy underworld characters.
And they are all anthropomorphic animals.
No, wait! Come back! It’s not important that they’re animals, because creators Juan Diaz Canales (writer) and Juanjo Guarnido (artist) craft a world and its people so convincing that you’ll forget the animal bit within a few pages. Promise!
Blacksad is a panther, all black with a white muzzle, which comes into play in this Jim Crow era. Most of the police are dogs or foxes, as you’d expect, and underworld characters are usually amphibians or reptiles. The women have very few animal traits — some whiskers, maybe, or cat ears — and are so human-looking that, as I said, you will forget the animal aspect entirely.
“Somewhere in the Shadows” follows Blacksad as he investigates the death of his first love, movie star Natalia Wilford. They had long since parted, but her murder burns in his gut as he pursues clues that take him higher and higher into the upper echelons of New York money and power. It’s a story that would fit neatly in Raymond Chandler’s oeuvre.
These two books are a lot of reading. But given their quality, it’ll go faster than you’d like.