Jim Butcher’s Welcome to the Jungle

Jim Butcher has moved the Dresden Files into the realm of graphic novels with Welcome to the Jungle, a prequel of sorts to his series on the adventures of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only wizard for hire.

It looks open and shut: a murder outside the ape house at Lincoln Park Zoo, a blood trail leading back to the gorilla’s enclosure, the victim the son-in-law of an alderman: the gorilla did it. Karrin Murphy, head of CPD’s Special Investigations Unit — the “spook squad” — wonders why the gorilla only cleaned up part of the evidence and locked itself back in its cage. Needless to say, the gorilla didn’t do it — it’s much worse than that. In fact, it looks like a job for Harry Dresden, the unit’s consultant on — well, spooks.

I have to say, having followed the series faithfully (once I got caught up on it), that the story seemed kind of thin — it just seems to move too fast. Thinking about it, I suspect that we’re in the clutches of that old saw, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The novels have their share and perhaps more of scene- and mood-setting, which is perfectly justifiable, given the kind of stories they are. Ardian Syaf’s graphics in this volume do a tremendous job of presenting those scenes, and he’s really excellent at setting moods. There is, perhaps, not as much under the surface of this story as I would like — I’ve run across a few examples of manga lately that are amazing in this respect — but Butcher has always presented the subtexts pretty much up front. And I have to say that the flashbacks of his final fight with Justin DuMorne are very well done.

The graphics on the whole are really good. I like them, which is not the usual case for me with Western comics: the frames are lean enough, and Syaf takes enough liberties with frame-follows-frame page layouts that I never lost interest or felt that the flow, which remained very clear, was becoming at all repetitive. He does wonderful things with close-ups, moving into a high degree of abstraction. I’m also favorably impressed by the crispness of the images — in some places, they almost pop off the page. The colors, by Digikore Studios, are clear and rich, and just as sophisticated as the drawings. And, wonder of wonders, even printed on glossy paper, the eye doesn’t stop at the surface of the page, but keeps going right into the image. Character designs are good, although everyone seems to spend a lot of time frowning — but it’s that kind of story, after all.

One real plus: the cover gallery at the end, with alternate covers by Chris McGrath. I’d love to see a series with his illustrations. In fact, I’m going to be on the lookout for examples of his work: his covers are very realistic but also kind of dream-scapes. Very nice.

(Del Ray, 2008)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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