Webcomics Wednesday: The Pale

Mystery Month 2017Mystery Month wriggles its tentacles into just about every corner of Booklist, including Webcomics Wednesday, so naturally I’m showcasing a crime-fiction comic this week. The Pale, by husband-and-wife team Sanders and Jay Fabares, has some classic genre markers: gruff, small-town sheriff; brainy, loner FBI agent; and a seemingly random, run-of-the-mill death that’s part of a much larger pattern. But there are some delightful surprises here, too, like Jay’s excellent artwork and visual storytelling style; the Arizona setting, including a rich variety of languages and culture; and a meticulous rending of the desert landscape and its varied wildlife.

The Pale

Sheriff Logan heads up the police department in Rocket Ridge, Arizona, a town where not much happens in the way of crime, save for some petty disputes or disorderly conduct. In a clever nod to a particularly iconic small-town police department, Logan’s deputy is named Dawn Knotts, though she’s far more capable than her namesake. Logan’s expecting another day of the same-old stuff when a coyote carrying a human hand in its jaws walks by and leads him to a rotting body surrounded by vultures.

The Pale

 

Assuming the death was nothing more than an accident, Logan writes up his report, noting a white pebble in the body’s hand, and calls it a day. That seemingly innocuous pebble, however, signals to FBI agent Fink that this dead body is one in a long string of suspicious deaths, and he swiftly makes his way to Rocket Ridge to investigate.

The Pale

Though Fink’s interest in the stone isn’t terribly clear just yet, there are hints of something very fascinating at work. Fink is an expert in dialects, and he can learn a prodigious amount about someone based solely on their regional accent, which Fink reveals in an ill-fated speed-dating event. He also reveals that he has face blindness, which Jay illustrates in a fascinating, totally effective way.

The Pale

Fink has also been having enigmatic dreams, which feature an ivory-billed woodpecker and the horrific, crumbling visage of an old friend. Animals, too, play a puzzling role in this mystery—the coyote Logan saw with the hand disappears shortly thereafter; an adorable, albeit aggressive, French bulldog follows Fink around town and coincidentally directs him to exactly where he needs to go, and birds make uncommonly direct eye-contact.

The Pale

There’s still plenty to be revealed, but the hints so far are delicious. Snippets of Navajo language and Spanish here and there throughout the chapters so far suggest connections to Fink’s linguistics expertise, and a smidgen of a backstory for a Navajo weaving are tantalizingly ominous. Jay’s noirish, fine-lined black-and-white artwork perfectly fits the tone of the story, and the cinematic pacing brings out meaty character details and meaningful clues equally well. And seriously, these wildlife illustrations are fantastic.

The PaleThis Twin Peaks–like mystery is only a few chapters long so far, but those chapters are glimmering with potential. The Pale updates on Tuesdays.

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About the Author:

When Sarah Hunter is not reading for her job as senior editor at Booklist, she's baking something tasty or planning trips to the Pacific Northwest. Follow her on Twitter at @SarahBearHunter.

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