Friday, December 31, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #34: Ben Wright-Heuman

Ben Wright-Heuman is a highly versatile cartoonist, writing everything from gag strips about cosplay and comics conventions to horror to suspense thrillers. The Letters Of The Devil II: The Legacy of L is certainly in the latter category, and it's a sequel to his clever original about a cop and a childhood friend engaged in a game of cat-and-mouse. The titular L delivers letters to others giving up incriminating information about someone else, and Wright-Heuman keeps the reader guessing til the end about who the protagonist of the story is--or if there even is one. 

For the sequel, Wright-Heuman takes a bit of a page out of the Scream films and adds a distinctly meta element to the proceedings. This time, there is most definitely a protagonist: a first-year Criminology student named Malina who decides to study the case surrounding L, which had become a media sensation. In particular, L's obsession with truth and justice superseding the law resonated for many. She's aided by some inside info: her mother is chief of police, and the corrupt cop at the center of the first book worked under her. When one of her friends commits suicide when she receives a chiding letter from someone who appears to be L, it opens up a brand-new can of worms. 

Like any good author of a thriller, Wright-Heuman doesn't cheat with regard to clues; they're all hiding in plain sight, if you're willing to pay attention. One of the clever meta-elements of the book is that serial killer types like L tend to spawn copycats, In this case, it inspired something far beyond that, once again invoking supernatural elements as a tease but certainly using the trappings of cultists. The ending was a bit over-the-top (especially with regard to the cult leader), but then truth is usually stranger than fiction. That's how QAnon became a viral belief system; why not the cult of L?

Heuman is limited as a draftsman, but his storytelling is solid. His use of pacing, gesture, and character interaction was solid, and his characters were highly expressive. The use of red as a contrast color and as L's signature continued to be clever. However, I found the relentlessness of the greyscale shading to be a distraction. Rather than add a sense of weight to a page and filling in dead space, Wright-Heuman drowned the whole narrative in greyscale; it served as a distraction from his storytelling, rather than an enhancement. His storytelling is strong enough that this narrative simply didn't need it. Indeed, this book was a relentless page-turner thanks to his understanding of story structure, motivation, and how to swerve the audience without it feeling cheap. A simple and limited line should be embraced in this situation, because it will provide the easiest access to that first-line/best-line expressiveness that simplicity offers. I'll be intrigued to see how Wright-Heuman continues this particular story and what new directions he can find for it. 

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