Monday, June 18, 2012

The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney

Aimed primarily at working-class teenagers, the typical penny dreadful recalled the exploits of famous explorers, infamous criminals and other men of action who lived a life your average young man could only dream of.  Printed cheaply with limited lurid illustrations, the Penny Dreadful was the pulp fiction before pulp fiction.  Indeed, one could argue that the Modern comic book evolved directly from the Victorian penny dreadful . Dusk Comics continues this legacy with their new graphic novel series, The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney.

Our heroine is one Miss Henrietta Tilney - a writer for The London Post  Growing bored with her assigned duties authoring an unspecified column, Miss Tilney requests a real reporter's assignment.  Her editor agrees to let her investigate a series of murders, apparently committed by the famous hunter Lord Beowulf Harwood and his companion, Dr. Charles Plum.  Sent off to interview the accused murderers in their prison cell, Miss Tilney is surprised when Lord Harwood spins a tale of his innocence involving dark magic and a sinister conspiracy.  Even more surprisingly, Miss Tilney believes the unlikely tale and allows herself to be drawn into the duo's attempts to escape their imprisonment!

The greatest problem The Trials and Tribulations of Miss Tilney possesses is that our title heroine is a passive character who is barely in the book that bears her name!  Apart from a bit of blackmail used to secure the release of the two accused murderers, Miss Tilney doesn't take an active role in the action of the story.  While this is realistic to the time period, it also makes the supposed main character seem like a bit player in what is meant to be her story.  Presumably this may be addressed in the second and third chapters of this storyline? 

That being said,  I enjoyed this book immensely and this story is a fine example of the penny dreadful form.  But the fact of the matter is that the real star of the book is the dynamic Lord Beowulf Harwood.  Indeed, this graphic novel concludes with a nine-page text-story detailing Lord Harwood's misadventures romancing a Maharaja's daughter.  This story, to me, was the highlight of the book and writer David Doub may do better to focus upon writing prose stories rather than graphic novel scripts.

The artwork is primarily provided by Sarah Elkins, whose cartoonish style - while skillful - does not seem appropriate to the  the darker tone of the story.  For the most part, her illustrations are canny though they are somewhat ruined by the increasingly odd placement of the dialogue balloons as the story progresses.  On some occasions the balloons are meant to be read from top to bottom.  On others they seem to progress from left to right.  It is a small detail but it does make some panels tricky to read.  Colorist Danielle Alexis St. Pierre provides the artwork for the flashback sequences and I can't help but feel that this series would be better served with her as the main illustrator.  

Fans of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series or Ruse will find much to admire in this series, as will fans of H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur Conan Doyle.  Despite some odd quirks in the artwork and my suspicion this book would be more accurately titled The Harrowing Happenstances of Lord Harwood, I did find this book to be a rollicking read.  It is currently available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

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