The first time we meet Tina Swift (whose name may have turned into Taylor Swift a couple of times writing this) is at her typewriter in Cairo. Unable to write the story she wants to tell, she burns a picture of a man in a top hat. A wonderful detail has the back of the picture be newsprint. Instead of the personalness of a photo taken you have the ripped edges of a person you have to read about in the paper. While the story never wraps around to Cairo again for any length of time (the exotic local makes for good pyramids) it leaves readers with a mystery man and a main character bursting to spill.
Written and drawn by Ellen Lindner, The Black Feather Falls is a murder mystery set in 1920’s London. The victim was found outside Tina’s place of work and the “posh curtain-twitchers” are out to glimpse the body. A veteran of the Great War, the bible he was found with had his family name torn out and nobody knows who he is. When the bible gets picked up by the police a black feather falls out of the pages. Tina lets an officer know. His dashed dialogue bubble indicates a comment said under his breath.
As happens after murder, Tina decides she needs to rethink her future and goes to see a man about a job at his newspaper. Good judge of character won’t be one of Tina’s detective skills. Pertwee’s stenographer, McInteer, says he hasn’t been to the office but that the day before a man matching the victim’s description was. Pertwee, like the victim, had been sent a black feather in the mail. While they consider the possibility that Pertwee’s absence means something ill has befallen him, they don’t trip over themselves to find out if he’s ok.
What they do feel responsible for is discovering the name of the victim, so he’s not anonymous. Ignored when he was alive, leaving veterans without resources when they return is the shameful constant of war. The meaning of the feather in this mistreatment makes for an important facing of history. I wish it had carried through more into the ending.
Strong lines and a fluent use of gradients and color pop off the page, and make the construction of haute couture coat collars extra dramatic. Tina’s love of clothes puts all of the twenties fashions appropriated by Downton Abbey on display, and I can’t imagine the sign outside of the shop where she sells glasses not being a reference to Great Gatsby. Space is considered when Tina and McInteer sit on the table and bed at McInteer’s apartment. It’s the right size room for what she can afford.
Titles are lettered to mix strict with the flirtatious curl, not unlike Tina’s aloof gaze on chapter one’s title page. Eyelids half closed, her purple eye shadow sells her out. It’s everything we associate with the twenties: restraint and pragmatism being picked at the seams.
The actual lettering through the book is handwriting. Since the story is “as told by Tina,” narration is handled by her but isn’t treated as the final word. Occasional hand-offs are marked by a tiny picture of the character’s head who is speaking next to the text. Bold letters might have worked better for emphasis than capitals, and some of McInteer’s dialogue in chapter one feels clipped and snippy, but chapter two enriches her character and hikes up her Scottish accent. At first I thought it was my imagination when the “wees” started laying on thick but Tina notices, too. I love a comic that beats you to the punch.
“That night, I slept soundly, happy I’d soon be righting a massive wrong.”
Originally from the States, Tina has run away from a lot (and when you meet her pa you understand why) but not this case. She may not grasp what she’s undertaking, and there’s no guarantee of success, but her all-in spirit is disarming.