Hanging in her stocking feet by the living room ceiling fan is the wife of musician and ersatz restaurateur Stephen Russell. With this striking image, David Lapham's film noir on paper MURDER ME DEAD begins.
So, when did noir become synonymous with crime? These days, crime stories get the noir label slapped on them without any sort of understanding as to what the hell the word actually means. There are rules for the film noir genre, you know? Tenets and tropes and expectations, boundaries and recurrent themes above and beyond the given of someone breaking the law.
You've got the femme fatale. Black and white helps, high contrast expressionism in the lighting. Laws get broken; people usually die, sure sure. Most prevalently, there's a certain level of moral bankruptcy at play within film noir, above and beyond that special something required to commit a crime. These are stories that seem by and large to be about desperate men experiencing a complete and total self-destruction from the inside out. In a crime story, a guy robs a bank and gets caught. In a film noir, a guy robs a bank to afford a showgirl he has the hots for, who kills him after the job anyway to run off alone.
In the rain.
You've got to give David Lapham credit: when he commits to an idea, he really commits to an idea. With MURDER ME DEAD, his first major work since beginning his seminal crime masterpiece STRAY BULLETS, Lapham has stripped every ounce of modernity out of his hands to bring his noir tale to life. It's as if he's devolved his drawing style so the book feels as though it was made in the fifties: gone is the bold, Mazzuchelli-esque mark-making that so confidently announced Lapham's presence in STRAY BULLETS; he's replaced it with a thicker, more lush line work reminiscent of Johnny Craig and the other EC artists. Hell, the guy even changed the style of his dialogue balloons from ovals to wrapping, cloudlike bubbles - a little detail, sure, but a deft and clever choice nonetheless. Choices like these make MURDER ME DEAD feel almost like a relic, but it moves and reads like some of the best noir comics made today.
Matt Fraction splits his time between motion graphics and design house MK12, writing comics, and reading comics. He is the author of the graphic novels The Annotated Mantooth and Last of the Independents, both available from AiT/Planet Lar. He can be found on the web at mattfraction.com. His wife is hot.