Often times, the art in the art of comic book making is left by the wayside. I understand this; sometimes, it’s a canonical style. Spider-Man is often drawn to a set of standards, or possibly a lack of ability. Sometimes, people are rushing so fast to simply meet a deadline that they fail to take into consideration the nuance and power that a good visual style can make.
Dead Letters definitely puts art at the forefront and is one of those rare books that is able to tie its visual themes and style to its writing almost seamlessly. I enjoyed the sharp contrasts between impressionistic painterly panels and those cut with sharp bold lines. At times, the book got a little hard to follow, however, and while this might have been on purpose, in order to better purvey the theme of disorientation that tends to run through the book, it still made for difficult reading at times.
One panel that stuck out in particular was where the main character, Sam, looks at himself in a mirror, the mirror being the next panel, both stitched together to play on the traditional panel structure, and it looks gorgeous.
I had a few issues with the book. It’s rather cliche noir that is twisted only so slightly. The whole waking up in a hotel room and not knowing who you are has already been done to death, and the narration gets a little heavy handed at times.
That being said the writing is solid. I particularly liked the line, “Everything I remember is useless, like running out of a burning building with the Junk Drawer,” and, despite said narration, the book does its best to put the reader in Sam’s shoes.
The biggest time this happens is when Sam begins to realize that he’s died and gone to Purgatory. Suddenly, with a subtle diner conversation, we are thrown deep into the supernatural, and all the other pieces make sense. It wasn't a huge surprise, just a quiet revelation, the other shoe dropping, as we realize what was always on the periphery of our mind, this all is too odd to be in the real world.
I would definitely recommend picking up this trade, if nothing else to ogle at the mastery of its visuals and the subtlety of its storytelling.