By Zack Quaintance — Comics can seem infinite. The personal tastes and reading histories that belong to fans of this medium are as varied as any I’ve yet encountered. Both film and literature have canons, bodies of work widely considered to be the most important or influential. These are, essentially, lists of works that all serious fans of those mediums should aspire to experience. Comics, however, doesn’t have that.
Now to get to my point: if it did, my sense is that David and Maria Lapham’s long-running crime noir book Stray Bullets would without question be part of any comic book canon. Furthermore, this is all a long-winded way to establish that I, in fact, have not yet read it (although, now that I’ve officially finished Sandman, maybe Stray Bullets should be next). So, I can’t talk or write intelligently about how their newest comic, The Lodger, fits into their body of work. Consider this intro a disclaimer.
What I can say/writer, however, is that I found this book immensely intriguing, a mysterious and well-crafted introductory issue that works in equal parts to establish a set of thematic interest (small-town American darkness, crime noir, travel blogging, drifting) and a number of questions (what the holy hell is going on and who exactly are our two main characters?). What is perhaps most consequential and worthy of discussion in this comic is its framing device.
This is my first experience actually reading the Laphams’ work, after hearing it discussed often in laudatory tones, and I found it to be as literary as most of the works folks tend to casually canonize. The framing device sees them writing a travel blog. It’s heavy on prose, which is always a dicey proposition for writers in the graphic medium. I find that often times prose-heavy comics are bloated, like the writer is so thrilled to have a little extra space that they lose their capacity for self-editing; that they forget how to be concise. Not so in The Lodger.
This framing advice reads like a first-person short story, the sort that fills readers in on details and also makes ample use of unreliable narration through the lens of whoever is talking. The Laphams go on to make expert use of the comic book medium, tying the visuals abstractly into said narration in a way that enhances the puzzling nature of this entire story. Simply put, this is the sort of comic made exclusively for comics, the work of veteran creators bent on exploring some of the graphic sequential mediums untapped potential. It’s an ambitious book, one that deftly completes a high-wire act that requires withholding crucial information without disorienting its readers. It’s complex stuff, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Overall: Along with Euthanauts and House Amok, The Lodger is part of the Black Crown imprint’s second wave of titles, and boy is it something to behold. These are complex comic books for smart readers, and I can’t recommend them all enough. 9.0/10
The Lodger #1
Writer: David and Maria Lapham
Artist: David Lapham
Publisher: IDW’s Black Crown Imprint
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.