The Creep is hard to describe … It's odd. Melancholy. Captivating. Elusive. Most of all, it's just… good. It's not the kind of comic I would normally read, but I am glad I did.
I picked up The Creep mainly because the comic has a good pedigree — I dig John Arcudi's work on B.P.R.D. and love Jonathan Case's art from the improbably excellent Green River Killer: A True Detective Story. These guys were enough to get me interested enough to try something new. I'm also a fan of The Creep's genre — wrap me up on a dark night with a glass of whisky and an old film noir thriller and I am a happy guy.
But I don't think I've ever read a film noir comic book (comics noir?) before, or if I did it wasn't memorable. It seems like a genre that's a good fit for comic book storytelling. The visual nature of comics can carve out deep shadows and smoke-filled rooms as well or better than film. But noir — especially neo-noir — is tough to pull off properly. Far more try and fail than succeed.
Arcudi and Case nailed it. First and foremost, they got the tone right, that rarest, most elusive element of Film Noir. They got that sense of a bitter world, where no one is really innocent and bad things happen to good people all the time, even if there are no real good people. Everyone is hiding a secret, every overturned rock has slimy maggots writing underneath.
The story starts off with a Bang! Bang! — right to the heart. A former college sweetheart writes out of the blue, 25 years after she dumped you, laying her son's suicide on your lap. "Sorry, I've been out of touch for a long time. But you're a PI now, so maybe you can help solve my son's death?" It's a gut punch from page one, and the following pages just keep laying it on. That's all just classic set-up and MacGuffin though . The real point of the story lies in the characters, and Arcudi and Case came up with a hell of a leading man.
The burden of the story rests on the very large shoulders of Oxel Karnhus, Private Investigator. Giant. A mysterious, solitary man, Oxel is a real-life mutant. He has all the physical deformities without the compensating super powers. Once a normal guy, handsome and with a bright future, Oxels life changed with adult onset of Acromegaly. This bone-warping disease transformed Oxel into a living monster, solitary and secluded by his own condition. There is very little in Oxel's life anymore, and his disease — which could have just justified an odd-looking character — gives him depth beyond what I imagined in the initial pages.
The plot has all the proper twists and turns of a Film Noir — all the wrong allies and misleading clues, leading to a truth that is more shocking and real than you could imagine. And I mean that. When the inevitable inclusion was dropped in my lap, I had to flip back and re-read the story just to make sure that was really happening, that it wasn't some bizarre dream sequence.
Here's a real shocker: Jonathan Case's art is incredible. Just kidding — that isn't a surprise at all. I was expecting good stuff since reading The Green River Killer, but even them my expectations were surpassed. Case has a real flair for crime drama, for setting the unreal right in reality. He uses an effective technique of juxtaposing the flat lines and dull colors of the flat, dull real world with the bright colors and loose lines of memory and fantasy. He pulls off the two art styles with such flair I had to double-check that there weren't actually two artists working on the series.
I read The Creep in the individual issues, but this collected edition is really the way to go. Not only do you get to read the story straight through, but the Sketchbook at the end gives real insight into the development of the series and art style. This is something I have come to expect and appreciate from Dark Horse's collected editions. Whoever is in charge of designing their trade series, they are doing a fantastic job.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack's reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.