Hello again! I hope you’re prepared for another incredible comic book review that will just blow your socks off. Unfortunately, the actual subject of today’s review may not do quite that – but I shan’t give too much away in the intro, of course. So please, continue to read, visit our sponsors (of which there are none), and have your pets spayed and/or neutered. Moving on…
Today we’re talking about The Black Diamond Detective Agency, by Mr. Eddie Campbell. This story is basically a straight-up crime drama, set in the final days of the 18th century in the Chicago area.
I’ll first admit that I’m rather fond of both the the historical aspect of this book, and the specific time period. The end-of-the-Victorian-era-birth-of-the-modern-age setting first became an interest to me while reading From Hell by Alan Moore, which astute readers may recognize as being part of my favorite comics list. Coincidentally, From Hell was brilliantly illustrated by the very same Eddie Campbell who wrote and illustrated The Black Diamond Detective Agency! So you see we now come full circle – much like The Lion King. Anyway, more about the pictures and stuff later. Let’s talk about the story…
Firstly, I personally thought The Black Diamond Detective Agency was just a bit too hard to follow. A little hard to follow is good; it makes the story more engaging. But with this book I found myself going back and rereading entire sections after I had learned some new clue which shed light on earlier events. I probably actually read the whole book twice by the time it was all said and done; which indicates that Campbell may have obfuscated his plot a bit too much in the interest of intrigue, suspense, and surprise.
I also felt the characters weren’t developed quite as well as they could have been – at least not enough to get me really invested in the drama. The crime itself (and its unfolding) was certainly interesting. I just didn’t find myself fully engaged in the book – I went days at a time without picking it up. A truly riveting story would have me foregoing Netflix or Angry Birds on my bus ride…
Also (and this is a relatively small issue), once revealed, I thought the plot was just a bit too far-fetched and contrived for my liking. However, it was within the acceptable margin of error, and in itself did not ruin the experience for me.
The first thing you will notice about Campbell’s artwork is the cover. For the covers and the leaves, Mr. Campbell employs a turn-of-the-century style, much like an early ad for Coca-Cola (back when it contained cocaine). There is a plethura of black serif fonts, all spouting forth very sensational nouns and adjectives. I rather like this retro theme, and feel it’s a nice touch.
Once inside the book, Campbell switches to a more painterly style. Actually, as far as I can tell, it’s a mixed-medium mixture of watercolor, pencil, pen, pastel, and maybe acrylics. And when Campbell nails it, it’s very appealing and effective. But, the result seems to vary from panel to panel. Sometimes the art can look just plain amateur – like something a high-school art student might create. I will compliment Eddie Campbell on the palette he selected. It is fairly moody, dark, and dirty – which fits the subject matter perfectly.
Another interesting aspect of The Black Diamond Detective Agency is the text. Eddie Campbell uses a loose, hand-lettered style throughout the book (presumably his very own hand-writing), which is somewhat of a departure from most comic books. If I remember correctly, From Hell was the same way, although I don’t recall if Campbell did the lettering on that book or not. I’ll wager he did. At any rate, I don’t really have an opinion as to whether I like or dislike it. It’s just different. And that’s ok.
One other minor note: Campbell throws in a few somewhat comical expository bubbles, which I found rather clever. For example, he labels a poorly rendered “Wanted” poster as “The crap poster”. It’s the little things…
To summarize, The Black Diamond Detective Agency wasn’t the best comic I ever read, but certainly not the worst. If it was a movie, it would be an OK movie. You’d watch the whole thing, but not be terribly jazzed about it at the end. The story was alright, the visuals were alright, but I wouldn’t put it on a must-read list. For those reasons, I’m giving The Black Diamond Detective Agency a 5 out of 10. If it’s sitting on the night stand, go ahead and read it, but don’t seek it out.
Happy reading, folks.