Writer: Sanders Fabares
Illustrator: Jay Fabares
Publisher: Fab-Ray Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A murder mystery in a town where murders don't happen sparks a series of events that quickly snowballs for everyone involved.
Imagine the potentially supernatural eeriness of the crime in the first season of True Detective mixed with the small town, quirky vibe of Fargo. There's also a little bit of The Killing in there, too.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Small town police officer, Sheriff Terrence Logan, sees a coyote carrying a severed hand in his mouth. It's a bit of a surprise in an area where you'd expect the biggest crime to be someone needing to stay in the drunk tank overnight or kids blowing up mailboxes with fireworks.
Elsewhere, FBI agent Franklin Ink seems like he might have some personal stake in the case, so he goes to help the investigation. An outsider of this small town who also has face-blindness, it makes for an interesting dynamic. But how exactly is Ink tied to the case? And were others murdered in a similar way? Are the murders as supernatural as they seem? And how can these small-town police with no experience solving murder cases hope to figure out a mystery as deeply nuanced and mysterious as this one?
Sanders and Jay Fabares work magic together in this book, each moving the story forward in their own way, rather than relying heavily on the writing as is so common, especially in indie comics.
Jay's art does so much heavy-lifting with storytelling and character development: scars, pain medications, names on uniforms, body language, facial expressions and reactions...they speak volumes without needing dialogue or neon signs to draw attention to them. The style is more true-to-life than cartoonish, but with a softness to her characters and a cleanness to her lines. Rather than taking away from the more brutal or gritty moments, though, it strengthens them. They might seem less likely in this friendly world we see through most of the comic, but when the Fabares remind you of the danger and violence in this world, they make sure you don't forget it.
Jay Fabares also has a strong grasp on the medium, in general; she knows the rules and how to break or bend them. There's a 15-panel page in issue #2 that is a very good example of this, but also small flourishes, like using a tilt-shift technique from panel to panel is an elegant, stylish solution for one scene, as well as using framing to highlight focal points in the art. But she also has the basics down-pat, using panels to perfectly time scenes out, and working that page turn to build suspense (which might be built-into the webcomic delivery mechanism, but it's still good thinking). Her layouts are thoughtful and balanced – something easy to overlook amongst so many other great aspects of this comic, but I definitely appreciated it.
That excellent grasp of the medium extends to the comic's lettering. There's a great use of size changes and balloon thickness to show emphasis, volume and other effects. Plus, there are other fun-yet-useful flourishes, like a word balloon absolutely filled with words when a character is being a little loquacious, or balloons fading into the background for a conversation ignored by a character.
Sound effects vary between digitally created typefaces and others that look more hand-drawn, and they're used well, with direction, the kind of noise, and volume in mind.
Each issue is tied closely together. It's not just a progression of events, where you could pick it up halfway through and get the gist, but something best experienced in totality, read all at once. The tone, the details, and how everything is related stay fresh in your mind that way.
That being said, each issue has a brief catch-up line in the very beginning that catches you up on anything you might have forgotten from one issue to the next.
Sanders has a really excellent vision of the story. It's well-paced, and though it's a slow-burn mystery, it doesn't feel slow. It feels masterfully written, like he's studied the genre so well, you can easily envision this as a TV series with few-to-no changes from page to screen.
Along with that, Sanders and Jay also know how to use good storytelling tactics and practices to enhance an already solid narrative. There's some smart use of foreshadowing and recurring themes, along with lettering and art style shifts, tied to Ink's face-blindness. I also enjoyed how the coyote from the first issue keeps returning, almost like it's one of the main characters. They know how to plant the seeds early for powerful reveals later. Whether it's a motive, or that part of a character's personality that would allow them to hurt others, or elements likely to complicate the investigation later, the Fabares weave them in expertly and early and often, so they truly feel central to the comic rather than a cheap trick to throw readers off the scent of the real killer.
Jay and Sanders also do a good job of tying each of the characters together in different ways, defining their relationships in ways that lend so much texture to the story in a way you don't often see, even in books written by seasoned comics creators.
The dialogue is so natural and human, it's like watching conversations play out in real life, but without any awkwardness or anything that doesn't move the plot or character development forward. The dynamic changes between pairs of characters, but it's always interesting and feels authentic.
The end of each chapter, but especially Chapter 6, will have you begging for more.
There's also a good amount of care given to First People and Latinx representation and language, that I appreciate in The Pale.
"Beyond the Pale" is an excellent name for the backmatter, which makes an appearance every couple issues.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
For those bothered by it, The Pale doesn't have any color. That being said, the art is remarkably clear and crisp, and the shading goes very far to take the place of color. Once you get a few pages in, you won't even think about it.
Some cursing plus some supernatural and murder themes probably make it a Teen+ book.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
The Pale absolutely stunning. The most addictive, well-executed webcomic I have ever read. Jay and Sanders Fabares are firing on all cylinders to bring you a comic that will engross you from start to finish. Their masterful grasp of the crime genre is beautifully showcased in these six chapters. I can't recommend it highly enough, especially if you're a fan of small-town murder mysteries.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Goodnight Paradise by Joshua Dysart & Alberto Ponticelli
Dept. H by Matt Kindt
Brother Nash by Bridgit Connell
If you like the art:
Deadbeat by JedMcPherson & Chris Shehan
Milford Green by Samuel George London & Mikael Hankonen
The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Sanders Fabares – Co-creator, writer
Fun Fact: Enjoys writing, running, gardening, bird-watching, reading, playing video games, and board games
Dream Team: Is married to co-creator of this series, Jay Fabares
Jay Fabares – Co-creator, Illustrator, Letterer
Multitalented: Handles all the line art and lettering for this comic
Fun Fact: Has a daily timer to remind herself to eat, because food is usually an afterthought for her
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