BOOK REC: Wicked Things – John Allison

Author/Artist: John Allison (twitter / website) and Max Sarin (website / twitter)

UK Publisher: Boom!

Genre: Graphic novel, humour, contemporary fiction, detective fiction

See Also: Giant Days

NO GOOD DEED GOES UNHIRED

The Eisner Award winning team of John Allison and Max Sarin return to the world of Giant Days for a new series about everyone’s favorite child detective; Charlotte Grote.

Nineteen year old Charlotte Grote has her whole life ahead of her; headed straight to Oxford and a future as a real detective—until she’s framed for murder!

Given the choice between going to jail basically forever or joining the police, Lottie decides to hit the beat, all while trying to find the real murderer. Lottie may have been running rings about the police since her 9th birthday, but she’s never been on this side of the security tape.

Could the future of law enforcement be 5’2” with an extremely strong bangs game?

Yes. Very yes.

From my previous review of John Allison’s work, you’d be 100% correct in thinking I was a bit of a fan. I adored Giant Days as a spinoff from Scary-Go-Round, but Bad Machinery also presented me with an unexpected cast of characters to love, sticking to the slightly spooky-whimsical direction of its parent comic. I loved the team of child detectives, but perhaps my favourite shining star and hero was Lottie Grote – chaos with big hair, a mad genius and the human incarnation of the phrase “hold my beer.” I was sad when Bad Machinery ended because I wanted the series to follow the team through the rest of high school and round out there (albeit, there does seem to be a story I have missed, as Circus Windows appears to suggest a falling-out between Lottie and Mildred which I… have no memory of), but the ending was poignant and worked well. (Note to self: try and get hold of the rest of Bad Machinery in print, even though the new editions won’t match your old editions, because you love it and want to read it again)

Anyway, the long and short of it was that I saw a new comic with the iconic, majestic, inimitable Lottie Grote on the front cover and I demanded that people take my money. And I read it within an afternoon. And then (ohohoho such is the theme of the last few reviews) I put off writing a post about it for MONTHS. To the point of literally copying it weekly onto a new page of my diary to-do list, since about June, because I was determined not to admit defeat. I was going to talk about this book. I was going to get the satisfaction of crossing it off my list. I was going to preach the good word of Our Lady Charlotte Grote.

I have always found Lottie extremely relatable in terms of my high school experience – she was a girl who was peppy, and bright, and slightly askew from the rest of society in a way that meant she was both treated as a weirdo, but also with a slight sense of awe. I’ll admit, I could see myself in the former, and aspired to the latter. Her focus when something captivated her, and her ability to look at problems obliquely to come to the correct conclusion was always a delight, particularly as her friends and co-investigators started going through puberty and became less interested in the romance of mysteries, and more interested in the mysteries of romance.

Wicked Things starts a little while after the final issue of Bad Machinery, and I was delighted to discover that Lottie has apparently continued investigating things solo, albeit with a bit of solid cheerleading from her friend Little Claire (who has blossomed from mousy, lisping pocket-friend, to a confident, glamorous and self-possessed teen – a transformation started in Bad Machinery, but delightfully punctuated here). Nominated for ‘Teen Detective of the Year (16-18 category)’, Lottie and Claire attend the fancy awards ceremony only to find Lottie being framed for murder. In a wonderfully White Collar turn of events, Lottie is given the chance to do community service while the investigation is underway, by helping at the police station. They intend this to mean admin and coffee duties.

They have never met Charlotte Grote.

I was delighted to see that Allison had teamed up with Max Sarin again, who was the second artist to take over the reins of Giant Days. Sarin’s art is extremely dynamic and fluid, taking Charlotte’s big hair and personality and making both bigger. It’s bright and bold and entirely appropriate for handling someone as legendary as Lottie. She is a pint-sized genius who makes that fact everyone else’s problem, and the sheer levels of sass that Sarin is able to portray are breathtake. The art is as wonderful as the writing, and seeing poor, unsuspecting civilians have to deal with Charlotte’s unstoppable personality was fantastic. I enjoyed seeing her expand to fill all the space she is given (and more!) and then reshape it around her so that she is as comfortable as possible.

If I had to have a gripe, it would be that I wanted more. I wanted to get more time to see her really finessing and being clever about her cases, they felt a little rushed in places – BUT, this is because I’ve been spoiled horribly. I spent years reading about Lottie in a webcomic that had no issue and page constraints, and where each story could take months to complete, with daily page updates. Allison had the space to really expound on every element – and you see this with Giant Days as well, where he was blessed with many issues. Wicked Things was a small commission on its original run, which meant it didn’t have the luxury of time to spend several days exploring how Lottie really feels about different types of dog. While I missed that, however, Wicked Things is tightly-plotted, well-executed, and works exceptionally. It could be a great stand-alone miniseries. But I desperately hope it isn’t.

We could all stand a bit more Lottie in our lives, and we could all stand to be a bit more Lottie.

Briefly:

  • A fantastic, fun miniseries that gives an iconic character centre stage but doesn’t require background knowledge of the original series to enjoy it.
  • It plays on fun detective show tropes (echoes of White Collar and New Tricks abound), without relying on them to the point of predictability. It knows where it’s coming from, but that doesn’t hamstring it.
  • Cracking art and the whole thing is beautifully packaged. It’s bright and bold, with a lovely finish on the cover, and looking at it makes me extremely happy.
  • I need to get into Steeple to continue my run of John Allison titles (and finish Giant Days), but I couldn’t recommend his writing more.

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