Saturday, August 11, 2012

Quick Review

Green River Killer: A True Detective StoryGreen River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm increasingly convinced that some of the best of the graphics renaissance we're now experiencing may well be in exactly the kind of imaginative nonfiction, and collaboration, best represented by books very much like this one. I am a real fan of the great stylists like Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns, with their innovative manipulations of form and narrative -- and their capacity for flat weirdness. Such artists however are by their very uniqueness outside the mainstream of cartooning. Doesn't make what isn't new bad. What to my mind is best in that mainstream of more traditional cartooning is banked by the kind of concrete details and straight-up storytelling that often as not may be best served by writers rather than, in some cases, the artist him or herself. (True for a lot of comic books back in the day, just as true now.) To each his or her strength, no?

Here the text is by Jeff Jensen, writing the true story of his dad, a Washington state cop who spent a good part of his long career trying to catch the Green River Killer. Jensen's memoir for his dad is a surprisingly tasteful and sensitive treatment of that horror, as well as what feels like a faithful recreation of his own and his family's contentment in the vicinity of a very real evil. Jonathan Case's art is as sharp, dynamic, and traditional as the protagonist. It works.

The book avoids the two most predictable traps in true crime writing: explaining, and so explaining away, the inexplicable, and giving more credit than is due. Cops are people. Mistakes were made, a lot of mistakes over a very long time. A lot of women died. They died at the hands of a truly barbarous, violent man, otherwise utterly unremarkable in any way; a not very bright, not very interesting, not very noticeable nobody. That is the fascination of the thing, not the gruesome details of just what the stupid sadist did, but how such a zero could destroy so many lives and take so long to be caught. That is the balance that this book keeps, between the commonplace and the awful, and it all works because of the balance between the almost reassuring familiarity of language and art, and the strangeness of the story being told.

The final result then is a remarkably restrained and realistic police procedural/memoir, beautifully rendered, and exactly, so far as I can see, where the form is accomplishing some of it's best results.

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