Posted by Don MacPherson on April 19th, 2009
You Have Killed Me original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Jamie S. Rich
Artist/Cover artist: Joelle Jones
Letters: Douglas E. Sherwood
Editor: James Lucas Jones
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $19.95 US
This upcoming project has been on my radar since its announcement. That it was crafted by the same creative team as 12 Reasons Why I Love Her. Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones delivered an excellent romance/slice-of-life story with that graphic novel, and with this new project, they turn their attention to another genre. As the title suggests, You Have Killed Me explores some slightly darker territory. Rich and Jones embrace the film-noir private-eye story with this book. As I began reading, I worried that their take might come off as derivative or even corny. To my relief and pleasure, they do right by the genre. Jones’s art is as attractive as ever, and not just because she captures seductive silhouettes. She captures the historical backdrop for this piece of fiction incredibly well, but she never goes so far as to strive for a photorealistic approach in her linework. There are a couple of intriguing mysteries to be found in this book, as well as a colorful array of characters and a tribute to a cultural history that’s been left behind but is rightly remembered.
Tony Mercer left behind a life of luxury, turning his back on his wealthy family to make his own way in the world. He’s satisfied earning his way as a private investigator, just the kind of change of pace he wanted, but his old life comes back to haunt him. A past lover has gone missing just as she’s about to get married, and her sister turns to Mercer to solve her inexplicable disappearance. Reluctantly, Mercer finds himself drawn back into a world and memories he’d tried to put behind him, and if that weren’t bad enough, his investigation puts him in the sights of mobsters, gamblers and killers, all of whom are more than willing to express their disdain for the gumshoe.
Rich and Jones offer up an entertaining and mystery story, but more importantly, they celebrate the culture of a bygone era with tributes to its film and fashion styles. Jones serves a number of roles for this film on paper, and one of them is as the costumer. She does a great job of convincing the audience of the genuine nature of the style of the time. The characters look the part, as do the settings. There’s a brighter look at play here along with some noir scenes. I get the distinct impression that Los Angeles is the setting. Perhaps the script mentions it specifically (if it did, I missed it on first reading and a second quick scan), but I got the feeling of a West Coast feel. Just as Jones conveys how that 1939 flair would look, so does Rich’s script capture genuine yet entertaining beats that convey how it might sound. The way the characters banter back and forth, it’s almost lyrical. One can practically hear a meter and syncopation in the dialogue.
Jones’s style is a somewhat loose, sketchy one, but her eye for anatomy is practically impeccable. Her approach to some of the supporting cast members is more exaggerated; she seems to depict the lesser characters as caricatures rather than convincing faces. Her style here reminds me of Rick Burchett’s work from DC’s super-hero titles from a decade or so ago, but she also takes some clear cues from Howard Chaykin. That latter influence is a natural, given the undertones of sexuality in the story.
The mystery at the heart of the plot is what happened to Julie. We’re left to wonder if she engineered her own disappearance, if she was kidnapped or if she was killed. But the real mystery, the one that’s even more interesting, is the one about who she is. As Mercer tries to find out where she is, he’s also forced to find out who she is. Mercer’s preoccupation with Julie and the changes he learns about help to distract him from the real story, and the same holds true for the audience as well.
Ultimately, what may be the most interesting aspect of the story is how it spotlights that despite people’s proclivity to wax nostalgic about the Good Ol’ Days and how Things Were Better, they really haven’t changed all that much. Rich’s story, set on the cusp of the Second World War, is about how people who have everything allow their baser, flawed appetites to threaten the comfort and security others would give anything to achieve. Just watch the news some night and check out a tabloid, and I think you’ll find some stories today that sound pretty familiar. 8/10