The Black Feather Falls
Ellen Lindner gives us a spunky adventuress, globe-trotting and clue-hunting, in The Black Feather Falls, a 1920s London-set mystery. Tina Swift has come to England from the States, and she’s working as a shopgirl. One morning, she sees the police discover a body, a man beaten to death on the streets.
She finds a black feather that they refuse to consider as evidence, which sends her on her own quest to find out what happened. Tina starts by trying to visit a reporter acquaintance, but he’s unexpectedly absent, so she teams up with his secretary, Miss McInteer. Together, they voyage around the UK to find out who the man was and what the secret of the feather means.
Lindner’s style similarly seems to have come from a different era, with figures with clear, direct faces and predominant shades of grape, mustard, olive, and cranberry. Her images don’t have depth so much as layers, with people stacked in front of backgrounds. It’s two-dimensional, reminding me that this is distinctly a comic (not a wannabe movie storyboard, for example, or a justification of the purchase of Photoshop). Sometimes I feel like I’m watching a captioned slideshow, key moments that make up the narrative in sequence. (You can see examples at the author’s website or in the original webcomic format.)
Lindner also has a quirk of surrounding a panel at the top left and bottom right with lines of narration, with dialogue word balloons more centered. The unfortunate side effect of that is that sometimes, I missed the second half of the narration, as my eye moved on from the panel before finishing the text. She doesn’t use gutters, so there’s no space to prevent the bottom caption from visually merging with the panels below it. It’s a minor point, since it meant having to reread the panel, which I didn’t mind; I got to take in more of the historical setting or details that way.
This turned out to be more of a crime story than I expected. For this to be a true mystery, a few of details would had to have been handled differently. For instance, Tina describes the dead man’s apparel to Miss McInteer, which reveals a key element of his history, but when we see the body discovered, none of what she says is visible. There is a later reveal of the important sweater (or jumper, since the text is British), but I found the pacing choice odd. More time is spent on what motivates Tina to make life changes, and the women’s clothes are wonderfully period, particularly when she goes undercover at a nightclub. Some items work themselves out by coincidence, so as detectives, the women have more gumption then deduction.
I enjoyed the combination of their personalities. Tina is the typical gung-ho, “let’s solve the mystery!” youngster, in keeping with her bossy American-ness, while Miss McInteer is older, Scottish, and rightly more cautious. I’ve been nitpicky about some of the art elements above, but I loved spending time with these characters in this time period. They’re exuberant and inspiring.
Lindner also does an excellent job establishing the setting. The duo travel to a remote island, where the history of the recent Great War informs the events. Those themes, of how battle changes people, and the difference between expectations of glory and the reality of abuse, provide depth to the traveling adventure.