(w/a) Rayco Pulido
Self-described as “a black comedy in eighteen acts,” Ghost Writer from cartoonist Rayco Pulido is a captivating work. Set in 1940s Spain, it follows Lalia, a writer for a call-in radio show who also is faking a pregnancy, has a missing husband, and occasionally partakes in vigilante justice. It is indeed a wacky premise, and it is beautifully brought to life by Pulido’s stylistic art. However, the multiple story threads, numerous acts, and relatively short page count make this graphic novel from Fantagraphics a very uneven experience.
Part of the problem with Ghost Writer is its chosen genre: black comedy. It is an extremely difficult genre to effectively pull off, especially in the comics medium. This is further complicated by Ghost Writer also being a mystery, with numerous interweaving plot threads. Lalia is shown to be faking a pregnancy, but the why isn’t revealed until it is much too late in the story. The same goes for her missing husband. Add on top of that the frequent beatings of a neighbor by her husband and the restrictive, contradictory patriarchal society of the era, and Pulido’s story isn’t a black comedy, it’s just black.
While the failure to include the “comedy” in this black comedy can be distracting, the characters and story itself is engaging. Lalia is a fascinating protagonist, often subverting cultural expectations. She knows what she wants and she often goes for it with little regard for who or what gets in the way. If that was all to her character, she would be one to be admired. However, she also takes justice into her own hands, brutally killing chauvinists throughout the story. Even this can be seen as heroic to a degree, as it can be interpreted as fighting against unjust and sexist societal norms. However, it is quickly revealed that things are not quite as it seems, as Lalia is also the victim of some clear trauma herself, which makes all of her actions equally disturbing and tragic.
This is the root cause of the disconnect between Pulido’s storytelling intent and the actual execution. Pulido’s unique style is gorgeous, causing the mysteries to be engaging and the characters to be captivating. Even the city architecture has its own personality, distinctly of its time yet timeless. The characters themselves are rendered in a manner that is deceptively simple, as they fluidly move throughout the pages with a great deal of expressiveness.
There are several mysteries at play within Ghost Writer, and their resolutions have varying degrees of impact on the reader. Some are shocking, some are tragic, and some are telegraphed. Yet each of them finds a way to get readers invested to keep reading. Even if the resolution is obvious, how it will impact the other plot threads is not. The connective tissue of these disparate plots is as much a strength as it is a weakness. In the end, that is Ghost Writer in a nutshell. It’s an uneven graphic novel where the intended humor doesn’t stick but the mysteries certainly do.