Updated: May 21
Comics have had a long tradition of great crime stories. But whenever anyone talks about crime comics, it’s always the same books being recommended. And, while books like Southern Bastards, Stray Bullets, and Criminal are all excellent, they don’t need me hyping them.
Instead, being the incorrigible hipster that I am, here’re five crime comics that you maybe haven’t heard of.
Rich Tommaso has made a ton of crime comics but his simple line work and flat, bright colours don’t immediately read as "crime." At a glance, they remind me more of Herge’s Tin Tin books than Brubaker and Phillps.
At first blush, Tommaso’s art can feel incongruous with the book's content. Like a finger puppet version of There Will Be Blood. But when you start reading, you quickly realise that that is not the case, Tommaso’s cartooning is expressive in a way that a more realistic rendering could not convey. You know exactly how his characters feel, what they’re going through.
That isn’t to say Tommaso doesn’t know when to get loud. There’s the playful formalism you’d get in a Chris Ware joint. There’s a couple of sequences that made me audibly swear with how clever they are.
Now, I’m such a process nerd that I’d love the book for it’s cleverness. But Tommaso combines it with a sharp-as-heck crime story. Style and substance all the way down.
A lot of crime stories are as much about the setting as they are the characters. But few bring the same kind of texture, the same authenticity that Black Mumba does. Mumbai isn’t just the setting, it’s a character. The book could not take place anywhere else.
The stories themselves are varied in content and tone. But I think my favourite is "The Rats in the Dark." It’s a bleak story, almost edging into horror, about a missing student. In a less capable writer's hand, it'd be a nasty, mean-spirited little yarn, but Ram manages to imbue it with a careful pathos, a melancholia and tragedy that elevates it beyond its genre.
If it was just Ram’s first comic then that would be enough to recommend it as a curiosity, the nascent work of a future superstar. But it’s a helluva book to boot. The fact that Ram could produce such a confident, quality piece of work as his debut is just crazy-making. It literally makes me crazy.
THE VIOLENT: BLOOD LIKE TAR
Like a lot of great stories, there’s an inevitability to The Violent. Mason and Becky’s relapse into their respective vices (Mason’s violence and Becky’s drug use) feels unstoppable.
There’s no glamour here. Everything is given a grim realism to it as small frustrations lead to big mistakes. But that’s what makes the book great; these aren’t criminal masterminds, they’re regular folk that are barely surviving. They’ve built a life on unstable ground and all it takes is one bad night for their relationship – and their lives – to unwind.
This narrative inevitability is compounded by the book's approach to violence. As expected from a title that calls itself The Violent, it does not pull any punches. Gorham draws some really nasty stuff. But that gives Mason’s actions weight. It makes them mean something. It gives the book stakes.
And once the dominos start falling, they don’t stop until the story reaches its horrific, tragic end.
Set to the backdrop of the fall of Cuba, Bad Girls' tale of cocktail dresses and bullets is perhaps one of the most stylish books I’ve ever read. Everything comes together: the colours, the sharp dialog, the book design and lettering. It’s all top-tier stuff.
But it’s not a case of style over substance. De Campi is, for my money, the best writer currently working in comics. Nobody does action quite like her. She manages to keep theme front-and-centre without compromising the action beat.
There’s one scene that sticks in my mind where a striptease turns violent that is so damn clever in the way that it uses juxtaposition. And Santos matches her beat-for-beat with whip-smart panelling, impeccable character acting, and fantastic character design.
Is it cheating to recommend one of my own books? If it is, I don’t care. Can’t be too precious when you’ve got a Kickstarter to promote, can you?
It’s about a leg-breaker called 'Cuddles' who discovers that his partner has been stealing money. And to make matters worse, his partner is his boss’ son. Cuddles quickly finds that he has to play all sides against each other in order to survive.
Plus, we’ve got a heckuvan art team in Marco Perugini and Shan Bennion. Their work absolutely speaks for itself. If I didn’t write it, I’d be backing on the strength of that art team alone. We’re live on Kickstarter right now, so you can head on over and see what all the fuss is about.