Art: Jaime Huxtable (@jaimehuxtable)
Letters: Taylor Esposito (@TaylorEspo)
Editor: Kevin Ketner (@electricdracula)
WHAT IS IT?
DROWSE is a lo-fi supernatural noir series about a down-and-out private detective who gets thrust into a seemingly simple investigation that threatens to change everything he knows.
Think Constantine meets Jacob's Ladder meets Strange Skies Over East Berlin.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
The year is 1968. The harbor town known as Fairhaven is quickly spiraling into chaos. Unemployment is at a record high, as is the crime rate, and a group known as the People’s Project aims to exploit the unrest for their own gain. Caine is a private detective who lives in Fairhaven, specializing in otherworldly and unorthodox practices rooted in urban mysticism and he's on the hunt for his next big case.
When a distraught mother comes asking for help locating her son, Caine finds himself diving headfirst into the strange and mystical dealings of a sketchy organization. His past trauma and occult practices threaten to unravel the life he has created in the process as he spirals further and further into the madness.
Huxtable channels a retro style that is fitting for both the setting and the story itself. It feels old school and nostalgic but comes across clean and understandable. Everything from the clothing and hairstyles to the subdued color palette and distinct illustration style oozes a retro comics vibe with a modern flare.
Verano and Klinger have written a gritty story that is as mysterious as it is gripping. Caine is an instantly appealing protagonist and the sense of urgency in the world they have built radiates off of the panels. The dialogue is powerful and political, and the mystery at the center of it all is gripping.
Esposito’s lettering plays a key role throughout this series. The use of varying font sizes to portray distant speech and the overlap of conversations are both easily understood. The perfect placement of bold and italicized wording helps sell the emotions and makes key details memorable, and the variety used to showcase handwriting and print throughout the series adds to the authenticity of the story.
Ketner’s role as an editor is priceless and he ensured the series is free of grammatical issues and reads fluidly. The series is heavily focused on the small details and he ensured each of those small details are handled with care.
Caine’s supernatural powers are usually shown in a textless manner, which adds to the mystery of his elusive past and strange techniques. It’s a clever way to draw readers in, using action to expand curiosity and allow the art to speak in place of exposition.
The series is cinematic. The slow pacing, the sense of movement, and framing all lend themselves to the noir and Americana themes. Scenes are shown in a manner that feels expansive and the clever use of Dutch angles and establishing shots are Oscar-worthy.
Chapter two has a unique and well-executed level of interactivity to it that I loved. Part of the chapter is in German and, with a simple click of the page, the text translates to English. It’s akin to having subtitles in a foreign film and it adds another layer to the cinematic nature of the series while utilizing the digital nature of the medium.
The late 1960s setting and political aspects of the series will leave you with a familiar discomfort that is only enhanced by the supernatural and cult-like aspects that linger in the background, waiting to be expounded on in the coming chapters. The realness despite the fiction is haunting.
Part two of chapter four cranks the intensity up not only with the action but with the tension. The slow burn pace is ramped up with every page and it enhances the distress and intrigue, leading up to a beautiful full-page cliffhanger ending that perfectly caps off the first act.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
CW: Strong language, use of alcohol and tobacco, noir-focused themes (i.e. murder, violence, crime-related plot points), disturbing imagery and violence, war-heavy conversations and imagery.
Unlike many modern webcomics, Drowse is released a full chapter at a time. While this in no way diminishes the overall experience, those who are used to a quicker release schedule may overlook this title at first glance.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Political intrigue and supernatural forces quietly duel for power in this lo-fi detective series set in the not-so-distant past. Its urban setting is enhanced by the almost dreary color palette and obvious unease of its citizens. Each chapter in part one establishes all of this with expert precision and sets the stage for a story saturated with corruption, investigations, and psychic attributes.
The brooding Caine is a captivating protagonist as he watches the city fall into desolation around him with a pessimism that is not only expected of his character but written in such a way as to not come across as typical. With its all-too-real setting, slow-burn story, and instant intrigue, DROWSE sets out to change the detective comic story with fervor and powerful storytelling. The combination of Verano and Klinger’s excellent script, amplified by Esposito’s lettering, and Huxtable’s nostalgia-filled artwork makes DROWSE a series you won’t want to miss. You can follow the official Twitter page here for updates.
Flip the switch. It’s time to wake the world.
HOW DO I READ IT?
The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Frank Verano, Nick Klinger, and Jaime Huxtable characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright Frank Verano, Nick Klinger, and Jaime Huxtable or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.