Crime and Hollywood are a classic combination. It is a formula that helped define the noir genre and was popular in 1940s and 1950s films. Love Town is the current comic book series from siblings John and Matt Yuan who share writing duties while John provides the art and Matt the shading. Ken F. Levin rounds out the creative team as the editor. Published by 1First Comics, issue three continues to follow a police investigation into the murder of a known criminal with associations with Hollywood.
Culture Trip writer Marnie Sehayek dissected noir into four elements in her article, “The Dark and Distinctive Elements of Film Noir.” (See her article dated October 21, 2016 here.) She states the genre is “known for quick, hard-smacking dialogue, tragic anti-heroes, and high-contrast mise-en-scene framing irresistible femme fatales, film noir is a genre that tested the boundaries of conservative Hollywood.” While she was referencing films, Love Town shares its visuals and narrative cues with its film cousin with exact efficiency. The Yuan Twins tell a classic story when looking at the surface veneer; however, when the reader sinks down into the highly contrasted black-and-white images that fill the pages of this third issue, the siblings’ tale is also testing boundaries and crossing lines. For instance, Detective Saxon is a newly turned vampire so is struggling to find “normal,” because her friends and family have abandoned her because she is no longer human. A reader could replace “vampire” for other labels today, and her struggles hit close to home. Her vampirism is read as femme fatale, but in her conversations with the doctor, readers learn of her vulnerabilities and in turn, she seems to be more human. The doctor, who is an immigrant from the Eastern world and the recipient of racial slurs, is also an outsider. It is a societal position that draws the two characters together, both misunderstood and used by others. These two characters spotlight how labels and stereotypes are problematic. This is not a new concept, but it is a lesson that society just refuses to learn and take steps to change.
In this issue, the Yuan Twins wrote a wonderful scene in which they juxtapose two separate conversations. Detective Saxon and the doctor engage in flirtatious banter, while Detectives Regan and Monroe interrogate Ronnie Hereford. The play of dialogue between both pairs plays out well, as does the composition of the characters in each panel and the high contrast between black and white. Saxon and the doctor are in a well-lit locker/lounge, while the interrogation room’s one bright overhead light pushes the tension to edges of the panels where the darkness lives. The simple flourishes that border the panels subtly indicate the specialness of this exchange.
The visuals of Love Town – black, white, and simple grey textures – evoke the mise-en-scene of the films: high contrast and the tension of the crime drama. In the example below, John lays down a pleasing panel layout that lead the eye down the page, while the action unfolds in this scene when the captain realizes that a witness is not where she should be and is angry that police procedures have not been followed. Readers get just enough dialogue with well-placed speech balloons to propel the scene, but the focus is on the captain and his interaction with the witness. In the fourth panel, the captain looms big, but readers feel his effort to help the witness who does not know any better as the other detective (Regan) moves towards the right and out the frame. Just like in a film, once the captain has defused the issue, the frame pulls out and gives a wider view for the reader. It is such a smooth transition and so well done:
Every noir element comes together in Love Town. The writing and Levin’s editing deliver a tension-filled narrative, while brothers John and Matt bring their story alive with their visuals. The cover culminates important elements of the issue in a pleasant way. The playing cards feature characters from the story, the blood split from the multiple murders, and poker chips which are literally overshadowed by . . . Well, you’ll have to read the series to find out. Fans of the brothers and/or noir should not walk, but run to 1First Comics and secure your own copy.
Creative Team: John Yuan and Matt Yuan (writers); John Yuan (artist); Matt Yuan (shading); Ken F. Levin (editor)
Publisher: 1First Comics
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