Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Britten and Brulightly: I get it! "Brew lightly!"

So, the big news as of late appears to be that Shojo Beat is going to cease publication, which has me totally bummed out, man. As regular readers know, it's one of my guilty pleasures to dive right into its girliness each month, and I've had some really good reading from the magazine. Hell, I might not have ever started reading Nana if it weren't for SB. It's quite sad to see it go, and I'll really miss getting my monthly dose of Honey and Clover, Sand Chronicles, Crimson Hero, and yes, I'll admit it, Vampire Knight. I think there's at least one more episode left to go, so I can give it a proper send-off with my review of that month's installment. Until then, let's all pretend to hug each other and wipe up our mutual tears.

But hey, at least there's other good comics to read in the meantime:

Oh yes, and if you want to read other stuff I wrote, I reviewed Agents of Atlas #5 for Comics Bulletin and the season finale of Fringe for The Factual Opinion.

Britten and Brulightly
By Hannah Berry

It's always great to see a talented young creator explode onto the scene, and that's exactly what Hannah Berry does with this graphic novel, which tells a detective story featuring a quiet, reclusive character and his unconventional partner. It's a great bit of noir, set in an undefined era in the past in which men wore suits and hats, women wore floor-length dresses and berets, and everyone ate in low-lit diners and drove cool old cars. Our hero, Fernandez Britten, is a detective who must navigate this world of reticent informers and people hiding secrets to uncover the truth behind the death of a woman's fiancé, who apparently hung himself. As he delves into the matter, Britten finds a variety of involved suspects, a possible blackmailing, proof of underhanded activity, and at least one bump on his head from a figure in the shadows. While it's compelling stuff and an intricately twisty plot, it's a fairly standard bit of noir, which makes one wonder about the inevitable twist. And that's where things get interesting.

You see, Britten may seem like a normal, if quiet, fellow, but since we're privy to his internal monologue, we find out that he's actually pretty strange, with the most obvious oddity being his "partner" Brulightly, a teabag that he keeps in his pocket and consults regularly, arguing about details of the case. This seems to point to the fact that Britten isn't all there upstairs, and while he is a competent "researcher" (as he prefers to be called), something seems off about him throughout. He reveals early on that he has all but given up detecting after case after case involving errant husbands and wives garnered him the nickname of "The Heartbreaker". A murder is enough to get him back in the game, but it seems that he can't take any more of the heartbreak that cases involving spurned lovers consistently dredge up. But he obviously enjoys the pursuit of the truth, and watching him puzzle his way through the case's details is a fascinating exercise, especially as he comes closer and closer to an all-too-familiar conclusion.

The other thing that Berry does so well is mood; her atmosphere is so encompassing that you feel transported to the gloomy, rain-soaked setting from the very beginning, and the deep blues, greys, and purples keep that opressive feeling going until the very end. It's impressive stuff; the combination of watercolors and charcoal shading give the omnipresent shadows an oppressive, almost tactile feel:

Page layouts are another strength, with frequent scenes of conversation given life by interesting techniques like dividing a scene into several tiers, with small changes in each tier signifying lapsed time:

Or just coming up with interesting, virtuosic viewing angles:

It's beautiful and fascinating work, a pleasure to witness on each page, and some moments are pretty astonishing, like the expected moment in which Britten experiences a strange dream after being conked on the head; it's a unique depiction of the swirl of memories that flow through his head, and just one great page among many.

Berry is obviously quite a talent; the fact that this is her first book is nothing short of amazing. If this is any indication, she has a long career ahead of her; it should be a pleasure to see the work she continues to produce.

By the way, apologies to Sandy Bilius, who was the person who originally pointed out the page layout example. I hope I didn't just steal what he said about it outright.


  1. AH! Brew lightly! Well done - I had COMPLETELY missed that.

    And no apologies necessary. Great review.

  2. Actually, I don't think I noticed it until I typed it out. I would have made a joke about it in the review, but I don't know if it even makes sense; is that an actual term one would use about tea? I have no idea.