Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Don't Panic: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: A Spoon Too Short #1

Private dick-wise, Dirk Gently depends on luck, circumstance and blind chance. He wouldn’t say so and yet there it is. Classic Dirk. And so it goes with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: A Spoon Too Short #1, the long-winded title to a devilish and delirious device of wit and wordplay about interconnected induction starring a put-upon protagonist whose pompadour rivals only Jack Nance’s coiffure in Eraserhead. It’d be easy to call this comic little more than a comedy of errors – a cosmic cock-up that ends up in Africa via Islington – if it wasn’t so heartfelt, sly and smart. See, this is what happens when one mucks about with holistic detection, it makes fools of us all.

As Athena leapt fully formed from Zeus’s brow so Gently sprang to life from the mind of famed author, radio-dramatist and hitchhiker-picker-upper, Douglas Adams. Here the detective’s handlers are writer Arvind Ethan David, cartoonist Ilias Kyriazis, colorist Charlie Kirchoff and letterer Robbie Robbins. Gently-know-nothings need not fret for the creative team (gently?) and lovingly maintains the zaniness and light touch associated with Adams’s oeuvre even if the reader only maintains a passing knowledge of 42, the importance and whereabouts of one’s towel and the sage advice: “don’t panic.”

David makes a dedication on the ‘Previously’ page of DGHDA: ASTS, To G.A.D David who bought me my first comic books, I hereby dedicate this: my first comic book.” No way. Way. Any mope with a keyboard and access to the internet (a handy hyperlink helps) will find David’s enviable curriculum vitae works the film financing and production side of the street rather than that of the ink-stained wretch … with one exception, he co-wrote a play, Dirk, based on … well you don’t need a holistic detective to (inter)connect the dots. David looks to be a kind of ‘spanner in the works,’ the fresh blood any medium needs from time to time. Like Adams, David displays a bracing reverent irreverence that’s always welcome among a sometimes self-serious industry. A little known property like Dirk Gently makes for the perfect foil for David’s verve.  

From the jump Kyriazis endears David’s script with a Carl Barks-like riff by way of Harold Gray -- it’s in the eyes, or not, natch. Young Dirk is squirreled away in his treehouse playing cards with his toys. The out-and-out playfulness of Kyriazis’s art in this sequence in both perspective and design coupled with Kirchoff’s colors makes it (almost) easy to miss the details. Dr. Who, Optimus Prime and everyone’s favorite paranoid android and melancholic, Marvin all occupy the same play space as Dirk. Sadly, this idyll comes crashing to an end as a trio of neighborhood toughs pulls down the treehouse with chains and grappling hooks. No worries. It’s all a dream. Dirk wakes from this traumatic nightmare with an "AH!" and the thought: "Strangely that is one of the happiest memories of my childhood."

Beginning at (and so close to) the beginning like this is a masterful storytelling shortcut by David to establish Gently as a true oddball rather than a stock geeky loner aping an adult aspect who sports a ridiculous amount of hair for a child. O.K. perhaps his behavior puts him a bit on the ‘spectrum,’ but who isn’t these days? Gently is an ebullient dreamer, lost in reveries, playing with toys, it’s only the interruption of life’s real hooks and chains that pull him down and yet it’s all a dream. The look of the faux comic strip shows a creative team aware of the medium, audience and the cultural kitsch that makes Gently, themselves and the story "one of us … gooble-gobble, gooble-gobble … we accept them!"

Sly as this bunch of creatives are they would not be children of the Adams if their work did not offer some salient social commentary to go along with the odds and sods of nods and winks. Kyriazis cartooning, in its natural state, is kinetic and angular with deep and detailed backgrounds, think Guy Davis in a Moon and Bá wrapper -- if Kyriazis wants to work the Mignola-verse, Gently makes for quite the calling card. This mélange of artistic styles is best exhibited at the Woodshed Private Hospital, where Gently has to take himself … to the woodshed, of course. He goes there to follow up on a tip from the establishment’s uninhibited night nurse, Sally Mills. Straight out of the Jessica-Rabbit-I’m-not-bad-I’m-just-drawn-that-way school of feminism, Sally is dressed, but barely, in a sexy nurse turnout. Because, as she tells Gently, reasons, those being: 1. "it’s Halloween," 2. she is "in fact, a nurse who is sexy woman" and 3. she is "drawing attention between the objectified concept and the reality."

This is David at his cheekiest as he uses another slate of stale (yet sexy) signifiers to comment on the objectification of women IRL and in the culture of comics. Yes, it’s a bit too on the nose and Kyriazis plays fast and loose with the ‘objective’ compositions of Mills’s frontal, sideways and backside assets as she saunters and sashays along the corridors of the Woodshed Hospital. She exemplifies a pubescent (and arrested post-pubescent) male’s wet dream. David calls her out as such, but what he’s saying is being commented on by an adult, a grown-ass man who sees past the thigh-high white stockings affixed with tiny red bows and the backless flouncy babydoll slip to the smart headstrong woman with agency as well as her ability to command attention. David plays right up to the edge of the ‘sexy nurse’ stereotype, he’s aware of its work, but he’s moved on.

Mills presents Gently with the curious case of the Kingdom-Browns of Hampshire, a family of four who have lost the ability to communicate. Letterer Robbins gives the Kingdom-Browns the always fun and always winning wordless word bubbles to display their confusion and lack of language. Gently tries to reach the family with pen and paper only to be met by a raised eyebrow from Mills and the explanation she and her staff have already tried and failed to receive a written response. Duh. This sends Gently into a paroxysm of hypotheses, each more absurd and nerdier than the last. To reinforce Mills as a character with a brain, Kyriazis draws just her head with a cocked eyebrow and cocksure smirk and places her at the far right-hand side of a long rectangular page-wide panel sans any background detail. It draws the reader’s eye across the page to reveal the real Sally Mills, a keen intellect and a smartass.

When Mills suggests Gently try using signs to communicate, he holds up four fingers in front of Mrs. Kingdom-Brown who responds by head-butting him and busting his nose. Kyriazis’s panel layout on the following page as the capable Mills fixes Gently’s busted nose is flashier, funnier, sexier and more artistically innovative than the preceding pages -- it's bravura visual storytelling by Kyriazis and the comic’s most memorable page hands-down. But. If comics are like music than there are louds and softs and moments in between. It’s in the interstices where true craftsmanship resides, a little detail here and there like the single panel of Mills’s head or Gently’s genuine brio for his work shows how much Kyriazis and David care about the big brassy splashy bits as the more workmanlike and mundane -- either way it’s all storytelling. Kyriazis and David are very precise storytellers and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: A Spoon Too Short #1 is comic craft at its finest.

1 comment:

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