Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened once a month to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends the trade paperback collection of Dash Shaw’s ‘Clue: Candlestick’, out now from IDW Publishing.
by Arpad Okay. What type of person is obsessed with tools of murder? Who counts the tiles between rooms, surveys schematics, thinks of blunt force trauma or asphyxiation as a puzzle? A game? You. Me. Obviously. So what if I told you that there was a board game that incorporates these elements? Imagine, if you will, taking a hit of acid and falling asleep on a Clue box. Here are your dreams.
There is a ton going on in these three issues. Dash Shaw crawls into the minds and perceptions of some thoroughly strange characters. There are big nostalgia kicks. (The board! The pieces!) There are several Forensic Files-style dramatic death-related story-in-a-story stories. Flashbacks, also romancing murder (all of the headlines said “passion crime”). Then, suddenly, a stranger walks in on our lust for comfort, supplanting our sense of artistic value, and says as much. Flash of shame followed by a puzzle.
There is a twee, melancholy Wes Anderson front, but Clue: Candlestick is more an honest appraisal of obsession; Shaw wants to understand why we treat violence like a puzzle, but showing you what he’s uncovered would be giving the game away. Clue plays with the reader, belittling their interest in mystery conventions and then supplying a memory test fit for a detective. Hats off to IDW (and Hasbro too, I guess) for putting out a book that implies that people who enjoy it have infantile taste.
Or that we’re all potential murderers.
Trying to chase after Shaw’s metaphors will leave you with a handful of dreams. There’s no answer in the envelope. Instead Shaw builds up the lives that are taken away. Feel for a murderer and then they’re stabbed in the back.
Shaw’s art style is strongly reminiscent of Chris Ware, another sequential artist who obsessively labels their schematics-cum-comics about melancholy philosophers. Boddy, Mustard, Scarlet, and the colors all have a Guess Who? level of detail, reminiscent more of Daniel Clowes than Ware. They are worked enough for expressions of shock and introspection, for the little details that make or break an investigation. Beyond the players are a supporting cast of even goofier looking, severely sardonic characters, Lane Smith broadsheet Beetle Bailey escapees.
The puzzles within the book are a formidable cherry on top. The narration breaks on the regular so that the reader can break out a pen and scratch out connections, maze routes, tick off checklists. They’re delightful, actually, somewhere between a macabre Murderino phone game, The New York Times, and a homework assignment for a junior detective.
A man in bed on fire looks more like animation cells laid on top of each other than a body tucked into a blanket wreathed in flames. Fire is a pair of shapes laid on top. The blanket a square of pattern. Death by smoke inhalation, but the cloud is a solid wall of thought bubble colored charcoal. The whole book is this careful arrangement of pieces.
Particularly the blood. Shaw elects to simplify blood, just unyielding red drops of differing size. Sometimes a streak will turn a period into an apostrophe, 1950s boomerang ashtray shapes. The square on which a player passes (yeah, lots of murders) acquires a blood dot.
So what kind of world are we in? Playing at the Acme Novelty Library with the Parker Brothers, artful Hasbro acquisitions. I think this is strong evidence that giving creative minds a looser license with properties—even the language of this stuff is tiresome—creates unexpected and exceptional results. Canon, continuity, the effort it takes to maintain these things is admirable. But Clue: Candlestick is a book worth stopping for and taking notice. Shaw recognizes the history and adds to it by creating something new.
IDW Publishing / $15.99
Written by Dash Shaw.
Illustrated by Dash Shaw.
Enjoy this 5-page preview of ‘Clue: Candlestick’ TPB, courtesy of IDW Publishing:
More Required Reading…