Harker Issue 1 - annotations
Okay, come and accompany me for a stroll through issue #1 of Harker - I'm going to be careful not to give away anything that'll lead you to the murderer as we're still in the middle of the story, but otherwise let's dive in...
There's absolutely a Watchmen riff going on here, and it's intentional. Vince's original cover for issue one was a much more basic shot of Harker and Critchley stood with their car, and although it was drawn delightfully, it lacked impact for me. We discussed the iconic status of the famous cover to Watchmen #1 (the Smiley button with the blood soaked drain) and decided to think of a similar image that would sum up the series at first glance. And so here we have harker and Critchley's shoes, checking out the blood on the pavement. Harker's wearing the scruffy Converse, with Critchley in the smarter black shoes.
This is a real church in London, literally just around the corner from the British Museum, one of six churches designed by the architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, who in recent years has become a little more notorious due to references in 'From Hell' by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, the poem by iain Sinclair and the book by Peter Ackroyd, all of which pretty much label him as a dark necromancer. So the perfect place to leave a corpse in a Satanic killing, naturally...
More information about the church here, and the true history of the architect here.
If you're counting, you might have noticed that this first issue has 22 story pages, whereas usually we have 20. The two pages here at the beginning were the last to be drawn, to help set the scene. Poor Vince must have spent a fortune in train fares, having to trudge all the way to London every time I spring something like this on him...
This is a very violent page, but I felt it was necessary to establish a context for the murder. Sometime murder is very ugly indeed. My feeling is that this is all the more brutal for not actually showing anything - all the violence is in your head (or between the gutters, as Scott McCloud suggested in 'Understanding Comics'). A very powerful page from Vince here.
Echoing 'From Hell' again here, with the language in the style of the infamous 'From Hell' letter, and our corpse deliberately looking very much like a Jack the Ripper victim.
Here we first meet Jenny Griffin, in charge of forensics on the case. Griffin was Inspector Harker's original name - I've always liked it, so transferred it to her instead.
Ahhh, the iconic money shot. Harker drives a Morris Six, in case you were wondering. The classic car is intended as irony, as are many of the details about our two detectives. Harker (the comic) is for us a celebration of everything we love about tv detectives, and as such our duo are a real mix of other detectives. I think I described it best in our Extra Sequential interview: "Harker is what would be the result if the TV shows Morse, Columbo and Waking the Dead all had greedy monkey sex together, with Starsky and Hutch as the stepdads and Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie as the grandparents." There's also a hint of Gene Hunt in Harker's cocksure attitude, and a little of Monk in his mild ADHD symptoms. Harker is always crumpled and a little tatty around the edges, whereas Critchley is never anything less than sharp.
You'll notice this from time to time - Harker has very bad people skills and is also rather shy, and he doesn't especially like having to talk to anyone. Critchley generally does that for him, with Harker hanging back, concentrating on the clues. For all his bluster, Harker is a delicate soul.
"Architect. Do you read comics?" Critchley here is referring to 'From Hell'. He's clearly a comic fan, and something of a geek about it.
Note the gut on Harker - there's some middle age spread going on there. He's in his early fifties, with Critchley in his early 30s. Harker, as you'll see, is easily distracted.
We decided right at the start that there'd be no caption boxes and no thought balloons. Vince gets around this artfully by using signs on buildings.
Note Harker standing way back - he really is squeamish, and doesn't like the sight of blood. Something he shares with Morse, of course. Griffin is consequently being especially ghoulish. Her little joke, I expect.
Page Eleven - Twelve
The black background is intended to echo the dark, moody lighting you see a lot in Waking the Dead, where they hardly ever seem to turn the lights on. More Ripper references here and on the next page, and more echoes of From Hell.
"If it's a letter 'B', I vote we bring David Lynch in for questioning". Critchley is referring here, of course, to Twin Peaks, in which the killer (Bob) concealed the letters of his name under the fingernails of his victims. Critchley really is uber-geek.
"Look! I'm a fish!" Critchley must have pocketed the eyeballs in panel 1 of page twelve.
"Can I be the first to say the game's afoot?" Sherlock Holmes, of course.
They're driving past the Russell Hotel in the first panel, a huge gothic hotel that dominates Russell Square, around the corner from where the murder took place.
I was going to add a 'ring ring' sound effect to panel three, but decided that sound effects were out too. Critchley is talking to Jenny Griffin, obviously.
Check out the middle panel. The house to the far left is the home of Randolph, who we'll meet in issue two. This is Montague Street in London, around the corner from the British Museum, and a stone's throw from the church where the corpse was found. Most of our story takes place in this small area of London - which may be familiar to comic fans as the location of the Gosh comic shop.
I'm not sure if there is a sign outside the British Museum, but no captions allowed, so needs must! From the angle we're looking in panel two, Gosh comic shop would be more or less behind Critchley's head here.
Note that Harker is a chain smoker, probably due to nerves.
The first of many shots of the British Museum that poor Vince has had to labour over. I can't help it, he just does them so nicely.
For those of you who have never been (and you really should), the bizarre structure in panel one is the British Museum Reading Room, which is situated right in the heart of the Great Court in the British Museum. Walking in and seeing it for the first time is a thing of wonder, it a triumph of architectural genius, in my opinion. More information about it here. You'll be seeing it again a couple of times in Book One (issues one to six).
Critchley is a ladies' man (unlike Harker, who prefers not to have to talk to them at all). You'll be seeing this girl again briefly in issue four.
"A Study in Scarlet" was the very first Sherlock Holmes novel (I'm sure you know this!)
"It was a dark and stormy night" - this first cropped up in the novel 'Paul Clifford' by Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, though it's achieved more fame through Snoopy in the Peanuts comic strip, who starts all his fiction that way.
Do we think Harker is quietly nicking that copy of "A Study in Scarlet" in panel four? Looks that way to me. Shifty bugger.
The Key of Solomon, the book that gives us the title of Book One, actually exists. More information about it here.
Hope you enjoyed that! Annotations on Issue #2 next week, once we're back from bristol. Hope we'll see you there!