GRAPHIC NOVEL REVIEW: Grimoire Noir

Bucky Orson has a problem. His younger sister Heidi has vanished. This would be worrying enough if Bucky lived in a normal town but he doesn’t. Bucky lives in a town where every female resident is born with magical powers and can never leave. But those powers are fading, Heidi may be the key to restoring them and everyone wants a piece of the story. 

Vera Greentea is one of the most endlessly inventive and consistent comic creators working today. Her work here, with Yana Bogatch on art, is a high watermark even for her usual standards. This feels like a graphic novel with the emphasis on the second word, a complex and measured story that explores it’s world even as it lays out the breadcrumbs for it’s miniature PI leading man. Nothing is wasted, nothing is padding but as Bucky paddles around his home town we learn what a fascinating and broken place it is. The breaks, and this is where the genius comes in, aren’t from malice either. This is simply a community in the middle of evolving and it’s that evolution that’s causing so much pain. The elegance with which Vera uses this set up to explore issues of female empowerment and culture, of adolescence and small town life and the pressures of being a smart kid in a small space is never less than impressive. Everything down to Bucky’s design, a PI’s outfit instead of his dad’s uniform tells us what we need to know. He’s angry enough to want to start some trouble and frightened enough to need some armour to hide behind. he’s also, crucially, smart but has not read the script. Bucky and we find things out at the same pace and that’s vital.

Bogatch’s art plays a vital role in that process. It picks out grace notes from the script and makes them work in ways that never fail to surprise you. Bucky’s best friend Chamomile floats, and her posture mimics a witch on a broom even though she lacks one. A vital witness in Heidi’s disappearance is her partially alive cuddly toy. The flood is caused by Bucky’s mom’s abilties going into overdrive due to stress, leading everyone to row from house to house. The world never feels twee or false but it never feels quite ours and so much of that is down to Bogatch’s aesthetic choices.

Most of all though this is just really good comics. It’s a complex, winding piece of magical noir with some real surprises up its sleeve and a sense of the world carrying on quite happily once the book is closed. If they wanted to, Greentea and Bogatch could come back here time and again. I hope they do but even if not their voices and styles are so distinctive, and vital, it bodes nothing but well for their future projects. Complicated, gripping, humane, perceptive and essential stuff.

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