Here at Booklist, we’re already gearing up for May, which in our book-cluttered halls means one thing: Mystery Month. I know it’s early, but I can’t help having detectives on the brain, so I will openly admit that I sought out a mystery webcomic for this week’s post, and I am delighted by my find. J.N. Wiedle’s Helvetica follows a newly dead young man . . . er, skeleton . . . who materializes in Death Valley (of course) with no knowledge of how he died, who he was, or what his past life was like. The only reason his name is Helvetica is because that’s the first word he uttered upon his arrival. Meeting him in the desert are two greeters—Mr. Good Heavens, a foppish dandy and Helvetica’s “Maitre d’Mort,” and Steak, his barrel-rib-caged, gruff partner—who escort him to the city of Farwolaeth (the Welsh word for death).
After a buying a suit at the tailor, getting the keys to his new apartment, and learning about jobs and the university available to him as a new Farwolaeth resident, Helvetica, or Vet, as he comes to be called, should be ready to get on with his, well, death. Only Vet isn’t interested in just clacking boldly into his future on his boney heels; rather, he wants to know who he was, and he’s tormented that he can’t remember a thing. Mr. Good-Heavens hints that he can catch a glimpse of his past life in his watery reflection at a mountaintop lake, but it turns out to be bunk. And yet! Vet’s trip to the mountain lake wasn’t fruitless: It’s there that he meets Detective Lucy, a hard-boiled bag-of-bones in a Bogey-esque fedora and trench coat, who suggests that there’s more to Mr. Good-Heavens and Steak than meets the eye and encourages him to “start at the beginning, like a real detective.”
Helvetica’s at a loss, until he meets peppy Autumn, a waitress at the local soda shoppe and aspiring mystery writer, who just happens to model all of her detective stories on Lucy. Her boundless optimism helps give Vet a sense of purpose, and, armed with a clue Lucy gave only to Helvetica, the pair decide to dig into the secret history of Mr. Good-Heavens and Steak. Wiedle lavishes the comic with tongue-in-cheek nods to noir, from Detective Lucy’s scowl and outfit to slatted Venetian blinds in his office and a serious monologuing habit.
Wiedle makes great use of color, carefully filling each panel with a wide range of atmospheric hues, from the moody, starlit night scenes to the cotton-candy colors of Penny’s Soda Shoppe. The skeletons, for all their calcified rigidity, have an incredible amount of life: Wiedle amply uses shadowed eye-sockets, coy winks, and grinning cheek-bones to great effect, injecting humor and heartening emotion all at once. With a playful tone, beautiful artwork, and a cheeky premise, this comic will tickle your funny bone (I promise that’s the last bone-related word you’ll read in this post). Helvetica updates every friday, and since Wiedle is only just getting into the mystery, there should be plenty of juicy clues in the future.