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posted April 30, 2008


Creator: Jason Shiga
Publishing Information: Sparkplug Comic Books, softcover, 144 pages, May 2007, $15
Ordering Numbers: 9780974271569 (ISBN13)

imageJason Shiga's Bookhunter dials down the formalist fireworks and high concept puzzle-solving of past works for a different brand of offbeat storytelling. The saga of a maniacally devoted member of a 1973 library police force applying his professional and personal resources to solving the mystery of a stolen, expensive bible, Bookhunter is humorous high concept played deadpan seriously with frightening conviction. Like most good crime thrillers there's a time limit involved. The book has to be found before it's sold on the black market. Like many of the best procedurals, Shiga's Agent Bay strains against the outer edges of the support supplied by science and his fellow, dedicated officers. Fittingly, the final outcome proves to be a testament to Bay's resolve as much as it is the tools at his disposal.

That sounds grim, but the recasting of an ensemble police drama into an alternate world of library crimes, some of which are solved with SWAT teams and gunplay, lends a jaunty and absurd air to the proceeding. Part of the pleasure reader will likely derive from Bookhunter stems from Shiga -- a librarian himself -- being able to fill in the details with convincing fashion: specific about the nature of binding, or the limits on computerized information available to police investigators 35 years ago. Let's just say that card catalogs loom larger than cell phones in Shiga's world here, and that it's almost a comforting experience to see a mystery played out along those lines. Shiga has furthered his development in terms of depicting action and controlling the pace of the story through visual cues, and while I have a hard time staying invested in his strange, mole-like figures, I honestly think that's my shortcoming and not his. The best audience for this work will be generous in affording Shiga a chance to march them through the outer limits of the territory he's staked out, and it's hard for me to imagine even those that might have issues with some of the cartoonist's stylistic choice hating this pleasant trifle for more than a few minutes after they close the cover. If nothing else, Bookhunter should raise expectation for our consumption of throwaway comics entertainment.