Review: Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery

Agnes Quill
An Anthology of

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I’m not really a horror fan. At least not when it comes to the slasher/zombie/blood and guts kind of horror. I can tolerate some of it in very small doses but as I like to tell people, I have enough bad dreams without exposing myself to that.

Spooky, though, I like. I adore moody, supernatural stories involving ghosts or any other strangeness. So of course, if you know anything about me, you know I loved Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery (SLG Publishing, 2006).

I don’t think I’m alone in usually thinking of Dave Roman as a creator who typically does all-ages comics. And certainly, he does those remarkably and wonderfully well. Still, as writer of the stories here (he’s also artist on one of them), it’s pretty delightful to see how well he’s able to tackle more mature subject matter. While nothing is too over-the-top in terms of horror, but when you have a murderous, philandering husband and monstrous rats as well as some dead children, it’s still not a book I’d be handing a 7-year-old.

Agnes Quill is a wonderful heroine — smart, capable, resourceful and witty. To make two (fairly lazy and obvious) pop-culture comparisons, she’s like Buffy meets Hellboy, which is, of course, awesome. When first meet her when she’s digging through crypts to retrieve an heirloom for one of the ghosts that has employed her and then dodging gunfire. While Agnes is brave, she also knows when it’s time to run away. I also admire Agnes using her powers to speak to ghosts to her own advantage — yes, she is helping to solve mysteries, but mostly, she’s trying to get paid.

The city of Legerdemain is kind of outside of time with its Victorian style but modern sensibility. I wouldn’t call it “steampunk” but I bet some other people would. I love how fully-realized this world feels — the mythology seems to run pretty deep — and this volume only seems to tap the surface.

The stories run from dark to humorous. “The Mummified Heirloom & the Divided Man” opens the book and is a gritty introduction to this world. Jason Ho’s art is all dark shadows and distorted angles, giving this tale an appropriate feel of horror. Conversely, the next story, “Lost & Found,” drawn by Raina Telgemeier, has more of a light sweetness. The next two stories, with art by Jeff Zornow and Roman himself, respectively, follow this same rhythm — darkness followed by more fun. It keeps the book from feeling too mired in horror and shows the depth that this concept has.

A history of Agnes and her family, excerpts from her journal, and an art gallery round out the volume. These are nice touches and really show the time Roman devoted to developing this character.

Sadly, as of now, this is all the Agnes Quill there is. I know I’d love to see more.

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