The Black Diamond Detective Agency cover
©Wonderland Films. Adapted and illustrated by Eddie Campbell from an original screenplay by C. Gaby Mitchell.

Eddie was kind enough to give me a copy of this in San Diego, and I’m going to repay that kindness by reviewing it here and picking on his storytelling and lettering a bit. Sorry, Eddie, no good deed goes unpunished.

Eddie Campbell has a long history of self-referential comics written and drawn by him in his very personal style. The ones I’ve read I’ve enjoyed greatly, including his most recent work, THE FATE OF THE ARTIST. And, of course, he’s probably best known as the illustrator of Alan Moore’s massive exploration of the Jack the Ripper murders, FROM HELL, which I also enjoyed very much indeed.

This book is a bit of a departure, in that he adapted an existing property, a Hollywood script that had gone unproduced for some years. It’s an exciting story of America’s old west, with gangsters, the Secret Service, exploding trains, and at the heart a heroic adventure, thriller and love story that, to me, seems ideal for the screen. Perhaps this book will prompt someone to give it the green light, which I imagine is what the publisher, First Second, is hoping.

Eddie’s art here is painted, and generally well done, though I had some problems in places figuring out the story. It almost seemed like bits were missing. This may be a problem with the screenplay, I don’t know. For instance, on page 105, the hero and a female wanted-poster artist have a conversation, then the hero and his “minder” walk off to the minder’s lodgings, where they will spend the night. On the next page we cut to the inside of a room looking out the window. In the second panel, we see a man coming in the window, while in the foreground a man lying down is awake and has a gun in his hand. Third panel, the man with the gun rises and shoots the intruder. What is missing here is some idea of the transition. A caption saying, “Later that night, in the bedroom, a sound outside the window…” would have helped a great deal, but Eddie seems to have decided to avoid captions altogether and tell the story completely with visuals and dialogue. This works most of the time, but in places left me confused, until later dialogue and repeated readings allowed me to figure it out. Despite that, the story was compelling enough to keep me reading until I did get it, the sign of good writing.

Black Diamond Detective Agency page

Okay, let’s talk about the lettering. I like Eddie’s lettering, quirky as it is, because it’s the perfect expression of his personal style. I usually approve of writer/artists doing their own lettering, as it completes the whole process of expressing their thoughts and ideas in a unique way. Eddie’s lettering is usually upper and lower case, with a nice organic bounce. Occasionally it’s a little hard to read, especially when the “h” has a short left-hand stroke that makes it look like an “n”, but it doesn’t slow me down that much, really. And in this book he’s taken care to make the lettering as large a possible, which helps.

When Eddie works in pen and ink, he inks in the balloon borders as well, but here, over painted art, he’s elected to let each balloon’s white space form the edges, or where the background is white, to paint in a very faint border. The tails are mostly white brushstrokes toward the character speaking. This is fine in most places, but where there is more than one person talking in a panel, he allows the balloons to merge like expanding dough balls, making it difficult to be sure who is talking, as in the right-hand panel above. Occasionally the white brush-stroke tails cross, as in the panel on the left above, which is further confused by criss-crossing white bullet-trails. This violates so many things about good lettering that I hardly know where to start!

But, in the end, like most lettering, it can be figured out with just a little more attention than is usually needed, and the book overall works for me. But Eddie, if you read this, I can only plead for clarity in the future. Highly recommended to anyone who likes a good read and especially fans of Eddie Campbell’s art.

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