A graphic novel. Story by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Michael Zulli.
Neil Gaiman's work in comics has helped transform the medium from one capable only of dealing with grown men and women running around in tights to one that is as flexible in scope and subject matter as the prose novel. Gaiman has developed a reputation both as a writer of comics and of prose fiction. His latest work, The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch, is full of the magical realism and spooky occult flair that Gaiman fans have come to know and love. Published by Darkhorse Comics, it makes a great introduction to both Gaiman's work and to the modern graphic novel in general. And for those who aren't already comic readers, Gaiman's latest may be a better place to start than his more famous and critically acclaimed Sandmanseries, if only because of its brevity (just 56 pages).
Full-color illustrations by Sandmanillustrator Michael Zulli set the eerie, dark, dramatic tone of the book. Even a brief flip through its pages makes it clear that this is no ordinary comic book. It looks like — and is, in fact — a short story in comic form (written by Gaiman and originally published in the UK edition of his award-winning collection of short stories and poetry, Smoke and Mirrors).
The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch,like much of Gaiman's work, is difficult to categorize because it blends the conventions of multiple genres (magical realism, mystery and the modern-day fairy tale, to name a few). The bulk of the story takes place at an underground London circus, a place where the work-a-day life of the city above gives way to the mystical, the magical and the macabre. The structure of the comic mirrors the structure of the circus, as the reader is led through various circus attractions, which are divided into 10 separate rooms. Without spoiling the plot, I'll just say that The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finchmay also be read as a reminder that the world is a very large place, one that may yet hold mysteries untold and unknown to humankind.
Of greater appeal and interest than the larger themes of this story, however, are the sophisticated, unique and well wrought characters. The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch is a character-driven story that is well worth reading, even if (and this is my one criticism) the price is a little high for such a short piece. Still, the book is beautifully designed and illustrated, and this is the hardcover edition, after all. Plus, this is the kind of book that bears reading again and again, so all in all it's worth the price of admission. As the blurb on the back of the book proclaims: "Come, come hear the strange and terrible tale of Miss Finch, an exacting woman befallen by mystery and abduction deep under the streets of London!"