“People named Tinkerbell name their daughters Susan.”
An Englishman in Los Angeles hooks up with an old friend. Gets a bit lost. Meets a strange old man on a bench asking for a cigarette and is repaid with a story. That’s essentially the opening to Neil Gaiman’s Murder Mysteries from Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell, Lovern Kindzierski, and Galen Showman. The story that the man tells is one of angels, death, and a murder mystery. The first murder mystery.
Originally published by Warner Books in the anthology Midnight Graffiti in 1992, Murder Mysteries is one of those short stories that kind of sticks with you. It takes a format that Gaiman was oft to use in other prose and in The Sandman of a nested narrative, with a storyteller taking an active role in the story. It also somewhat feels like an outgrowth of the interpretation of God and Heaven consistent with DC Comics, presenting the Silver City, making it almost a natural choice for P. Craig Russell to choose to adapt into comics.
Russell’s comics work, be they adaptations of other work — operas, short stories, or longer pieces — or original items, is exquisite. There’s a precision attention to detail that runs through his oeuvre. It shines through in how he tells a story, how the grids and panels are lain out across the page, the staging and blocking of the characters in the panels, the iconography during particularly important panels for plot or theme, and it’s thoroughly enthralling. And Neil Gaiman’s Murder Mysteries is a masterwork.
There’s a union here of high talent between Russell, Lovern Kindzierski, and Galen Showman that results in staggering beauty. Russell’s fine linework and character design, combined with a distinct naturalistic, but sometimes almost flat, color scheme from Kindzierski and the interplay of Showman’s placement of narrative boxes in the gutters and word balloons that break panel borders make this a design wonder. Beyond the words, visually this is a comic that excels at storytelling. It’s a story that you can just pore endlessly over the pages, gleaning new insight and knowledge of pacing, transitions, and storytelling choices. I think this interplay is beautifully exhibited during one of the breaks in the old man’s story (see page below) when he takes a puff on a cigarette, collecting his thoughts, and giving voice to what he saw coming together in the Silver City. It’s just beautiful.
All of this storytelling power even before you get into the heart of the content of the story, which is compelling on its own. It’s multiple layers of mystery, both in the tale being told by the old man and in the framing narrative, and a meditation on love and death, and the obsession that potentially links the two. It’s a question of predestination and of responsibility and punishment. And a grand design that is a meticulous as Russell’s page layouts.
Neil Gaiman’s Murder Mysteries from Gaiman, Russell, Kindzierski, and Showman is a beauty of a story and an adaptation. It’s a tale that benefits from numerous formats and is equally enthralling in all of them. (I’d also be remiss if I didn’t recommend the interview that Durwin Talon conducting with P. Craig Russell on his process, Mysteries Demystified. It was originally published in The Art of P. Craig Russell and has been included in the 2014 Edition of Neil Gaiman’s Murder Mysteries and subsequent collections.)
Classic Comic Compendium: Neil Gaiman’s Murder Mysteries
Neil Gaiman’s Murder Mysteries
Writers: Neil Gaiman (original short story) & P. Craig Russell (adaptation)
Artist: P. Craig Russell
Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski
Letterer: Galen Showman
Publisher: Dark Horse
Release Date: June 12 2002 (original) | June 17 2020 (collected edition)
Available In: The Neil Gaiman Library – Volume 1 collection