Review: ‘Spectacle’ Book One
Spectacle Book One
by Megan Rose Gedris
Oni Press, $15.99
Recommended for ages 12 and up
Spectacle sets out to be a murder mystery, but its strongest appeal comes in the atmosphere Gedris creates. Anna and Kat are twin sisters, traveling with a down-at-heels circus. Kat is a talented knife-thrower, while Anna pretends to read fortunes.
Gedris has extensive skill in sketching characters quickly but uniquely. Kat, for example, is sweet to everyone but her twin. She’s social, while Anna is more of a loner. Visually, characters have simplified, doll-like faces, but they’re more expressive for that, and the settings detailed, pulling the reader into this unusual environment.
Then Anna finds Kat dead, stabbed in the back, but Kat’s ghost is still present. Together, they’re going to find out who did this, in spite of Anna’s scientific nature being opposed to the idea of spirits, and despite the secrets between them.
There are odd elements mentioned in passing that contribute to the uncertainty of the setting. Anna has created, for example, a steam-powered “conjecture engine” that can really predict the future, but her customers don’t really want to know what’s going to happen unless it’s happy. Finding out that ghosts are real — and that Anna can eventually see more than just Kat — throws Anna into a uncomfortable new existence that causes her to question more than just the suspects.
The circus folk make for an unusual but accepting community, one Anna risks disrupting by her investigation. They’re all unusual, most outcasts. And they’re beautifully illustrated in Gedris’ style, with strong, wavy lines giving them all a slight air of uncertainty. There’s a mysterious ringmaster, a religious clown, a helpful fat lady sidekick, touching backstories, hints of more bizarre changes coming, and a corrupt sheriff who tries to shake down the circus train.
Anna’s narration, when it occurs, is hand-lettered white text layered on the art. The varying shapes, often wrapped into side spaces, casts a spell of its own.
Bear in mind that the mystery isn’t solved in this book. A second volume is due later this year. There’s plenty of weirdness and wonder to inspire speculation here, and as an introduction to a different kind of world, it’s glorious.
Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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