Writer: Arvind Ethan David
Cartoonist: Ilias Kyriazis
Colors: Charlie Kirchoff
Letters: Shawn Lee
Editor: Denton J. Tipton & Chi-Ren Choong
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Every first issue of a comic book series is like a striking a match in a darkened room. Most of the time the flame burns low or barely at all. Those few comics — and ‘few’ is being generous — that shine enough light to hint at the dimension and contour of the room reveal riches to come. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: A Spoon Too Short #2 doubles down on the promises of its predecessor as its plot, characters and, yes, the ”interconnectedness of all things” begins to brighten the corners.
This second chapter finds Gently and his client (or as he thinks of her, his assistant) Assistant professor of Anthropology, Tamasha N’jie Travers, traveling to Africa to track down the ‘Tribe With No Words.’ As it turns out prior to taking Travers’s case, Gently was in the middle of trying to solve the mystery of why an English family, the Kingdom-Browns, lost their ability to communicate while on holiday in Africa. Ah, Holism. Upon their arrival, Gently and Travers meet up with Madluck Biggun. His cunning (gunning?) family moniker aside, Biggun is an animal conservationist trying to save the dwindling African Black Rhino population from poachers. But that’s the ‘story’ and Dirk Gently is far more artfully interconnected than by only its ‘story.’
Those must-haves like ‘Plot’ and ‘Characters’ are load-bearing concerns. What makes one story different from another, of course, is the details and what lies along the margins, those fleeting glimpses an author provides to make the reader want (have) to know more. Writer Arvind Ethan David and cartoonist Ilias Kyriazis have devised a clever and cartoon-ish approach to open each chapter of their story with Dirk dreaming about his childhood. This allows David and Kyriazis to delve into Dirk’s past while playing to their strengths as storytellers.
With the caption, ”Thirty years ago. The Smarter Side of Transylvania,” a baby Dirk — Kyriazis versions of pint-sized heroes rival those of reigning hero-baby-maker Skottie Young — calls for his mama and papa as he winds his way up a set of stairs in a precariously perched castle. When Dirk reaches the top of the staircase he opens a bedroom door and is met by a cloud of bats. In an inset panel Dirk, his mouth wide open to expose a single rounded tooth, laughs and exclaims ”Papa!”
In the two Dirk Gently novels Douglas Adams wrote before his death, the details of Dirk’s boyhood are only hinted at. Wanting to know more himself, David uses this marginalia to illuminate Dirk’s bygone days in order to investigate the holistic detective’s Dirk-ness. In addition to being a charming overture to each chapter, the sequence disarms both old and new readers with some narrative slight-of-hand to create another mystery within the mysteries. How’s that for interconnectedness?
Kyriazis and colorist Charlie Kirchoff heighten this ‘what’s past in prologue’ approach with a retro comic strip look that recreates a funny-pages feel for the story of young Dirk. The visual momentum of the opening page begins at the bottom left-hand side showing a conifer covered valley that stretches up the length of the page to the exterior of the castle as bats encircle its spires. On the top right-hand side of the page, the momentum moves in the opposite direction with an upside down bats-eye view of baby Dirk as he ascends the stairs. The disarming nature of narrative reflects (literally and figuratively) in the vertiginous feel of the sequence. By flipping the perspective on the right-hand side of the page, Kyriazis uses the entire page to play with basic element of visual storytelling in a graceful and subtle way that engages the reader’s attention. Yes, capital-C ‘Comics’ require eye tracking in order to read the story, yet rarely does a cartoonist call attention to the apparatus itself in such a fun and spirited way.
David has set himself up as a one man Dirk Gently cottage industry. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: A Spoon Too Short is the first act of what David hopes will be a full-on Gently-ing of the pop culture landscape. Along with writing the comic, he is also one of the co-producers of an upcoming eight episode Dirk Gently TV series bought earlier this year by BBC America. David’s devotion to Dirk goes back to his salad days at boarding school when he adapted the first of Douglas’s Gently novels into a stage play.
What David brings from his own history and love of the character and how he carries on in the esprit-de-Douglas is to make Dirk a jerk, but one with a whack-a-doo-do-gooder-ness that tempers his behavior and gives him the charisma of Columbo-esque detective. One way David defuses Dirk’s boorishness is to give the supporting and side characters the best bits of dialogue.
When Dirk insists on referring to a stewardess as a ”waitress” because as he believes/says, ”naming follows function. They serve food ergo …” he gets the bum’s rush from said stewardess/waitress and finds himself uncomfortably scrunched into an airplane bathroom. He’s informed, in not so gently a manner, by the stewardess that she’ll ”cut your heart out with a spoon.” Dirk holds his tongue, but reminds the reader, in narration: ”anyone who would quote Alan Rickman couldn’t be all evil.” This kind of Robin Hood-like appropriation of pop culture is something David, in words and Kyriazis in images, excel at in this series. It’s this deft touch that embellishes the story in a way that adds to its sense of playfulness.
David’s under-the-fingernails understanding of Dirk’s faults don’t come off as forced. What keeps any fanboy fawning at bay is David gets the jerkiness of Dirk, a well-meaning jerk and a (private) dick, but a jerk (and a dick) nonetheless. Dirk Gently is in many ways comedy of manners or of unmannered detectives. As Douglas did before him, David is satirizing the stock idiosyncratic detective from Holmes and Marlowe to Jessica Fletcher and Adrian Monk. The jokes are at Gently’s expense as the ‘norms’ try to put this lord of misrule in his place. Credit David for his comedy chops and for his producer’s acumen to know an audience will always follow a fool, but they seldom cheer a narcissist.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency: A Spoon Too Short #2 keeps the brand burning and with only two issues under its buffoon’s bouffant it’s poised to reward the reader with further riches.