Bury the Lede original graphic novel
Writer: Gaby Dunn
Artist/Cover artist: Claire Roe
Colors: Miquel Muerto
Letters: Mike Fiorentino
Editor: Dafna Pleban
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Price: $19.99 US
I was keen to read this book, as its focus on journalism – and specifically crime reporting – is of great interest to me personally and professionally. This is my first exposure to the work of writer Gaby Dunn, and there’s an undeniable edge to her plotting and characterization. Unfortunately, there’s also a profound lack of logic to it as well, robbing the story of plausibility and credibility. While the noir atmosphere, both in the story and art, is palpable and entertaining, I just couldn’t buy into the protagonist’s journey here. Her dumb luck, her implausible access, her determined destruction of every relationship in her life — little of it worked for me. There’s a powerful and engrossing yarn to be told here, but it’s one that calls for a more complex and finessed execution, as opposed to the ham-fisted hammering it gets here.
Madison Jackson, an intern at the Boston Lede, gets a crash course in journalism, as a murder suspect’s decision to feed her juicy bits of the story from her cell places her at the heart of a storm of controversy – a story about a political scandal and coverup. Aided in her tyro efforts at reporting the news by a cop with an interest in her romantically and a senior reporter with an interest in her sexually, Madison finds herself torn among her loyalties, ethics and drive to get the story at all costs.
Despite my misgivings about the plot, I truly enjoyed the artwork in this book. Roe’s linework here reminded me of the styles of such artists as Brian Stelfreeze and Michael Gaydos. There’s a nice blend between a realistic approach and a more stylistic bent, and Roe captures Madison’s youth adeptly. However, I don’t think her art would have been nearly as effective if it hadn’t been for Miquel Muerto’s dark, haunting colors. His use of deep blue and purple tones really reinforced the noir atmosphere Roe establishes with her line art.
One shortcoming of the story is that the mousey personality crafted for Madison at the outset of the book completely contradicts the at-any-costs approach she so quickly adopts. Despite her willingness to cross any line for the story, the first-person narrative voice still boasts that naivete. That wide-eyed, in-over-her-head quality also makes her intimate interests – the cop, her mentor at the paper, the murder suspect herself – difficult to accept. Madison’s thoughts speak to her status as still something of a child, but her actions are those of a femme fatale. The contradiction is impossible to reconcile here. I do find Madison’s self-destructive leanings interesting, but they don’t really jibe with her personality, as it’s conveyed in the narration.
Furthermore, Dunn introduces a couple of subplots that really don’t go anywhere. The fact that Madison’s brother is working for the mayor’s re-election campaign doesn’t really go anywhere, save to give the main character someone else to screw over in her life. The character of Harold Gennero is introduced, but to what end? She really doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose, save to hammer home the competitiveness of the profession early on (which had already been accomplished with the rival newspaper).
While it’s likely that comics instilled a love for journalism in me and led me down that career path, I’ve been frustrated for years with how often the medium gets journalism wrong, casting aside the ethics and mechanics of it all (for the sake of drama and adventure in fiction, of course). Dunn does so here as well, and that surprises me a bit, as her bio indicates she worked in the profession for a time. The notion that an intern would be given the freedom to pursue a story so fraught with pitfalls and potential liabilities is just too big a pill for me to swallow. And as for her access to an accused murderer, that didn’t jibe for me either. Now, maybe remand visitation in Massachusetts is different than it is where I live and work, but in a million years, this sort of unfettered access just doesn’t happen. And the notion that the authorities wouldn’t listen in on a murder suspect’s conversations with a reporter is ludicrous. The plot doesn’t work for me because there are so many impossible and implausible developments needed to make it work. The lack of supervision over Madison’s work, the disregarding of the many violations of journalistic ethics… there’s so much portrayed here that wouldn’t happen, and other elements that shouldn’t.
Now, I admit my own experiences in and thoughts about journalism colored my review of this book, and that my reaction comes from a very personal, clearly biased place. It could be I’m just too close to the subject matter to enjoy it as a piece of escapist crime fiction. But in the end, I think many readers will find there’s no one to root for here, no real hero in the story — and not nearly enough vindication and justice. 4/10