January 17, 2014

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The Black Feather Falls Book 1

Written and Illustrated by Ellen Lindner
with Color Assists by Andrea Kendrick
Soaring Penguin Press

An American working in London won't let go of a tragic death that occurs right outside her shop and ends up pairing with a newspaper assistant to figure out the crime in this period piece that forms the beginning of a promising mystery.

I enjoy crime comics and it's always fun to see them in places you might not normally look, such as mini-comic. Add in a 1920s London setting that's clearly been researched carefully by the author and you have a story that's easy to recommend.

Ms. Lindner takes pains both in terms of context and visuals to ensure we feel as though we're being transported back to the past. There's the dress of the characters, of course, which look like they came out of a PBS Mystery! production. Hairstyles, hats, and hemlines are all portrayed in a manner that fits the timeline, and are varied, even in crowd scenes. Men wear top hats and sport mustaches. Various newsies and cops also look as they did in post World War 1 London.

But we also have context that features prominently in the mystery. Tina, an American, doesn't quite understand how World War 1 sill reverberates in daily London life until her partner explains it. The titular black feather is a reverse of the white feather given in disgrace, but the dead man lost his legs and a missing newsman claims to be a war vet. When Tina needs answers, she takes a reluctant Ms. McInteer to a place reveling in post-Victorian morals adjustments, which doesn't sit well with the prim stenographer.

Those kinds of touches, seamlessly integrated into the overall story, that takes a comic like Black Feather Falls and puts it above similar attempts. I am at the point where it takes more than a cool idea to get me to grab your mini-comic. You have to really show me you've got a plan and know what you're doing. Lindner had me sold on this one early, and I never looked back as a reader.

It's one thing to do the research and include it without feeling like distracting showing off. It's another to make it visually appealing, and I'm happy to say that we see that in Black Feather Falls as well. Sometimes mini-comics can be a bit on the stiff side, not taking the storytelling advice from superhero comics that could really benefit them in terms of varying the visuals.* As you can see from the examples I've included here, Lindner understands that.

Take a look at her confrontation with the Bobby. The top third of the page gives a plot point, and is visually looking straight at the reader. The bottom of the page is split in half, with the left side a medium shot of the two characters. The third panel moves to a tight close-up, with Tina's purple eyes and furrowed brow staring at the black feather, which she thinks is important but the cop doesn't care about. The look on her face tells us that Tina is not a woman to give up so easily, and the rest of this issue is about her dogged pursuit of the truth, even though none of this directly affects her at all.

It's a great character moment, driven by the art. The page isn't overflowing with details (though we have them in background buildings and the Bobby's outfit) yet it tells us so much just by careful placement of the characters and focal choices in terms of what we see.

That level of craft is seen throughout the entire comic. A turned head here, a wide-eyed look there, and some off-center panel constructions keep the story flowing, even though it's almost entirely exposition. I didn't notice at all, even after re-reading it multiple times. Because this is the first issue out of four, Lindner has a lot of set-up ground to cover before our heroine is sipping tea and typing by the Pyramids, as we find her in the opening. Thanks to strong artwork, the journey is a pleasant one.

The Black Feather Falls Book 1 has a lot to recommend itself for crime fans, those looking to explore more creative efforts by female writers and artists (or in this case, both), and anyone who appreciates a comic that takes the time to do the little things right.

If you're all three, then this one is going to be a perfect fit for you. It certainly was for me, and I hope to be able to read more in the series as they come out. Grab this one now, and you'll see why.

You can find out more about Ellen Lindner (and pick up a copy of Black Feather Falls) by going to her website.

*Of course, there are quite a few superhero comics right now drawn by folks who didn't get that memo, either. I hate knocking folks, especially since I can't draw for shit, but when you're making a comic, whether it's hyper-detailed or featuring basic outlines, you need to mix up the perspective or consider what best tells your story. Far too often, I don't see that.