20 January 2010

Comic Book Day - A Look at Greg Rucka's "Stumptown"

by guest columnist Anthony Schiavino.  Follow him on Twitter.




Note: this article originally appeared as a two separate reviews on the Pulptone.com website.  Stay tuned next week for Anthony's thoughts on the Apple iSlate/Pad/Whatever announcement, and what it spells for the future of the comic book medium. -TW


Stumptown #1
Written by Greg Rucka
Illustrated by Matthew Southworth
Colored by Lee Loughridge
Published by Oni Press

I went to the comic shop planning to buy a new overpriced convoluted mainstream comic mini series. What I came out with was a creator owned book by a writer whose work I buy far too little of. It was the same price with 10 extra pages. There was only one in the shop. It could have been somebody’s copy. If you’re reading this and it was yours I apologize. But know that it went to a good home. Lately I’ve been seriously rethinking my comic collecting, and I’ve had to drop a few titles. But every once in awhile you have to take a chance on something that looks good. Stumptown may look similar to Criminal but the similarities end there.

The story is about a Private Investigator, Dexedrene (Dex) C. Parious, from Portland Oregon that is well over her head in gambling debts. She’s pretty much flat broke and doesn’t know when to quit. She lives with her brother, who has some kind of a mental condition, and runs her agency out of her house. Could be she’s hit a dry spell, or maybe it has to do with getting her brother help, although he seems well enough.

In order to cover her debts the owner of the casino needs Dex to find her missing granddaughter Charlotte. She could have run off with a boy but nobody is sure. All they know is that she left and she didn’t take her car. Dex can play it two ways. Pay back the 16 plus grand she owes the house, or find the girl. She doesn’t really have a choice.

Stumptown0101 Through the next 27 hours or so we see her doing what she does, although I can’t say best because it’s too early in the game. We’re taken around Portland and, from the write up in the back we’re told, it’s as accurate as possible. Which is kind of a thing with Portland books. They’re very intimate with the town for whatever reason. The same can be said for the people of the town in the comic. They all seem to know Dex in one way or another but it’s beyond her being a Private Dick. People genuinely ask about her brother and how things are. She’s not liked by everyone.

Two guys threaten her to stop looking for Charlotte. To stay out of it. One even runs his switchblade through the canvas top of her Mustang. All she can say is that she has no idea what she’s in.

Just when you think it’s a straight missing persons case we find out there’s another party looking for her as well. The seventh richest man in the state. He owns a sizable chunk of commerce and business coming in. But what he wants her for we don’t find out. All we know is he’s willing to pay more than twice her debt to be told where she is first. My only gripe with this scene is the use of the term “gone missing,” which just makes me cringe. She’s just “missing.”

Stumptown0102 Dex goes back home and there’s another nice scene with her brother. You get the feeling their close, that they’re all each other has but you don’t know the story behind it yet. Then the phone rings. It’s Charlotte. She’s worried that “HE’S” going to kill her. She never says who. Dex wants to meet her at a local bar to straighten everything out. When there’s no answer on the other end to confirm she just automatically assumes it’s a yes and head out.

But she’s stood up. The two men come back to threaten her. The cynic in me wonders how they knew she was there. Tip off? They probably followed her. But who do they work for?

We’re brought back to the first few pages of the book. The men bring Dex, placed in the trunk but not tied up and with her cell phone (although she never calls for help), under a large extension bridge. They shoot her and throw her body in the water. But she wore her vest. The local PD pick her up and they’re not happy with her. Maybe they just had a bad night. But how did they know she was there? Did somebody hear the shots and call in? Maybe we’ll find out next issues. The police don’t even want to listen to what she has to say. They figure she’s just a drunk or a junkie until they check her ID. She’s thrown in the cruiser anyway.

The end of “The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo and Left Her Mini” part one.

Stumptown0103Some people like crime stories. Others don’t. It’s just a genre you’re either going to take to or not with very little grey area in between. I can’t say that I know any readers or crime writers that will say something was okay. If you like this issue you’ll come back for the next. What keeps me coming back is the dialogue. If it doesn’t sound natural, like having a conversation or watching a movie, then it falls short. The dialogue in spot on for the story and I only want to see more of the characters and their relationships.

Stumptown is solid crime fiction without getting too garish or going too soft. Nothing is for the sake of in this book. The comics I collect are dropping like flies. With a price tag of four dollar the comic better be good. Not only was this a good read but it was also 32 pages of story and that’s saying something. The fact that the art and design are top notch only serves to solidify the quality.

Next month my comic shop is going to have to order two copies.


Issue Two.

This review is about two weeks past due because the comic never arrived at my shop. Truth be told only one copy was ordered and that copy never showed. We’re not sure why but it wasn’t on the shipping list either the week that everyone else got their copies. After so much love for the last issue I was eagerly waiting for more so you can guess that I was disappointed when I left the shop with nothing in my hands. Literally nothing. I went there for one book and one book only and that was Stumptown. This comic has quickly become one of my favorite titles. Sure it’s a detective comic set in modern day with noir undertones but the one thing that separates it from the pack is its realism. The dialogue in every situation is spot on and natural. You can hear the conversation in your head with natural mouth and eye twitches and everything else. True personality in any situation that the lead character, Dex, is thrown into. If you watch old movies like I do you’ll know exactly the kind of thing I mean. You either get it or you don’t and this creative team gets it.

I’ve never been to Portland but if I ever wanted an inexpensive tour of the city Stumptown would be my guide. Most comics will set the stage of their story in, for example, New York City, but never bother going outside the front door for photographic reference. I don’t fault those creators for it, lord only knows there’s not enough time in the day to do everything, but that’s what makes this comic so special. You can sit back and just know that the panel you’re looking at actually exists in some corner of Portland, Oregon. Somebody is actually having a cup of coffee in that diner right now in that same seat.
Stumptown #2 Page One
The story itself is straightforward. I’m not going to give you every twist and turn here but, as we saw at the end of last issue, Dex survives a few gunshots to the chest thanks to a bullet proof vest. We open at Legacy Emanuel Hospital and Health Center where she’s being examined by what she calls a good looking doctor. This is where the natural dialogue comes in right from the opening page. She’s actually flirting with the guy, telling him that she was disappointed in the exam because he didn’t try to cop a feel. The reader, much like the doctor, doesn’t know what to think or say about it. But hey that’s Dex.

The story is interspersed with cut scenes of her home life and having to take care of her brother, getting him to work on time and what seems like endless parking tickets (researched and modeled after real life tickets I might add) like on the cover pictured above. Sure she’s trying to find this runaway but if you’re going to set a detective in the real world you have to understand, much like Greg Rucka does, that a little thing called real life exists. Responsibilities far past the tip of your own nose. I can only say one thing about the art and this isn’t a cop out. It speaks for itself and spot on to what it should be. It’s perfect and so are the colors. It doesn’t try to be perfect in terms of accuracy. Only mood. A perfect fit for noir.

Stumptown #2 Page TwoYou’ve heard my endless rants be it in
reviews or on Twitter or Facebook about the price of comics. Sure this one also clocks in at $3.99 but you’re getting much more content in page count AND in panel work. Well worth the price of admission. Even the paper quality is above what we get in any mainstream title for the same price.

My favorite part however wasn’t the comic story. It was the back matter content by the artist. What’s so great about this particular column is that Matt takes us through his process of research. But it’s not just about getting the right angles or finding the right street corner, because all of that is discussed, but it’s about HOW to read comics and the timing of it all. We all read comics differently. For that matter we read everything differently be it a comic, newspaper, or a book. That one panel without dialogue could last a half a second with a glance or it be a five minute study. This completely hit home for me. In watching those old movies it’s one of the things I love the most. The dramatic timing of a scene. Much like how I read, and ultimately write, my comics I come at it as if I’m watching a movie.

I can only hope and ask that Matt writes more of these columns. I would even go so far as to ask that a book be collected at some point. I think many more creators need to know about the things he discusses in them. Matter of fact this would be a perfect convention panel.

I can only hope and ask you the reader to go out and buy and support this book. It seems like it’s a rare commodity where I come from but if you can’t find it then have your store place and order or order it online. Spend the 8 bucks and shipping for both issues. You won’t be disappointed. If you’re not sure where to get it from then just ask me. I’ll point you in the right direction.

From the halls of Marvel Comics as a mutant editorial intern to the heights of the Flatiron designing book covers and straight on through newsrooms as an art director, Anthony Schiavino has seen action and then some. Pounding away at the keyboard, working well into the night, he mixes his love of old hard-boiled stories, hopeless romance and black and white movie dialogue like a good stiff drink. A writer and designer from New Jersey, Anthony’s work can be seen on a wide range of pulp and comic book publications such as “Ghost Zero,” “The Phantom: Generations,” and the “Black Forest.”

He can be found talking comics, movies, television, and all things pulp on Facebook and Twitter.

2 comments:

Tyler Weaver said...

Great reviews, Anthony - I'm a huge fan of Bendis' "Alias," and "Torso," as well as Rucka's "Queen & Country," "White Out," and of course, Brubaker's "Criminal."

I'm definitely going to seek this one out.

Pulp Tone said...

Some I've read. Some of those I haven't yet but are on my short list. For me it's more so how natural something is within the concept. I don't think there's ever been a Rucka book I haven't liked. I know I've read either Alias or Torso but not both. Back in the good ole Bendis days.

 
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