Saturday, February 28, 2009

For a Beautiful Woman, a Beautiful Murder

Eliza Frye's debut comic The Lady's Murder is a brief gothic mystery surrounding the murder of Marie Madeleine, a beautiful and notorious young woman whose life and death slowly unfold over the course of 32 pages.

The reader takes on the role of the largely unseen detectives, listening to the testimony of the men who circled Marie Madeleine's life as they try to determine who killed her. And each man dangles a morsel of information before us, revealing a small detail about her. From the butcher, we learn that she was sensuous, partaking in pleasures that are quite literally carnal. From the waiter, we learn that she was a talented entertainer of men. Her suspiciously cool patron, smiling with false decorum, will not confirm the exact nature of their relationship, saying only, "She was not a dancer."

This method of storytelling, with all these men speaking for a woman who can no longer speak for herself, works beautifully on a couple of fronts. For one thing, we see Marie Madeleine only through their lenses, getting sparkling jewels of dialogue such as:


It's also an effective way to slowly pull back the current on the mystery of her death. Not every piece of information we get is pertinent to that mystery -- some merely flesh out the ghostly figure of a woman we never meet -- but by the time we reach her funeral, we have a sense of who killed her and why. But the final panel ends with a gentle twist that adds a fresh layer of understanding.

But the true genius of The Lady's Murder is in Frye's mastery of the visual language of storytelling. In brilliant watercolors she meditates on traditional gothic imagery -- ravens, hospital common rooms, absinthe, and turn of the century fashions -- in a way that is subtly but appealingly lurid, casting us as eager voyeurs. When we meet an actual voyeur, he invites us to peer through his window by simply showing us four panes bathed in glowing red. Marie Madeleine's frequently nude form is rendered exclusively as negative space, showing us only her hair, her eyes, and her inviting smile, and reminding us that we see only what we project onto the empty canvas of her body.

The Lady's Murder is a beautiful and quiet book that leaves us wondering more about Marie Madeleine's life even after the mystery of her death has been resolved. Frye has made 250 handmade and signed copies available for $25 (including shipping) on her website and the book will soon be available from Haven Distributors.

[The Lady's Murder]

25 comments:

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I don't read comics by and large, but I almost bought this just to cut up the pages and paste them all over my apartment. Absolutely gorgeous.

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