Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery

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Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery was written by Dave Roman and illustrated by Jason Ho, Dave Roman, Raina Telgemeier, Jeff Zornow, and Jen Wang. It was published in October 2006, and (mercifully) it looks like there might be a good chance of a sequel. [The copy used for the review is my own.]

To be clear, although it says “Anthology of Mystery”, the first adventure starts off at the morgue. Agnes’ client is a ghost who wants to find a missing heirloom for which, the ghost suspects, she has been killed. Furthermore, the heirloom may actually be inside her body, and so …

Writen by Dave Roman, illustrated by Jason Ho, and lettered by John Green. Page 5.
Written by Dave Roman, illustrated by Jason Ho, and lettered by John Green. Page 5.

… I think you’ll agree that I was right in presenting this one during Horror month.

For some more context, here’s the summary from the back of the book:

Set in Legerdemain- a congested, fog-filled, cobblestone-paved Victorian city built around a cemetery the size of Central Park- Agnes Quill is the 16-year-old grandchild of a once famous detective. With a natural ability to communicate with the dead, she has taken over the family business, helping souls find their way in the afterlife and often uncovering the mystery of how they ended up there. Her adventures include confrontations with trapped spirits, cursed souls, possessed relatives, disappearing pets, decapitated scientists, ambitious zombies, and a mess of other supernatural oddities.

Let’s start with the eponymous heroine, Ages Quill. Can I just say “new favourite heroine”? What I love about how the story is structured is that you almost never see Agnes outside of her work. We get to know Agnes through her persistent snooping, the expected regime of running (from baddies), and the odd interactions with clients. As a detective of (and for) the supernatural, the following things become very obvious to us as we read on:

1. She is without family.

2. She is not without friends (both alive and dead).

3. She is quite brave. (One would have to be, with her job.)

4. She has a sense of empathy that allows her take the sides of her clients, even if she has her doubts.

5. But this sense of empathy does not obstruct her sense of justice (or her sense of humour): “Because really, some people just deserve to get eaten by zombies” (Roman, 54)*.

6. And she is, one of the few heroines, who is unafraid to get her hands dirty:

Written by Dave Roman, illustrated and lettered by Raina Telgemeier. Page 37.
Written by Dave Roman, illustrated and lettered by Raina Telgemeier. Page 37.

And just like Fairy Tale Comics, it feels like each artist has added a layer of storytelling with their work. For example, Raina Telgemeier’s cute style compliments the telling of a rather touching case for Agnes. While, the very first story and our introduction to Legerdemain city and to Agnes is presented to us in serious, dark illustrations from Jason Ho. I think the idea of having each adventure be illustrated by various artists is a fantastic one. I love the many imaginings of Ms. Quill and the different Legerdemains. And I love that each of the adventures may or may not be connected. It makes the read pretty interesting.

However, I feel like the bulk of Agnes’ personal history is handed to us at the end of the book in a textual dump. And while Agnes’ story itself is engrossing, I could not help but wish that these files had been interspersed among the comics. Plus, it seems to me that it should not be told to us what kind of person Agnes is. It is one thing to reveal familial history through a “Field Guide”, it is quite another to merely mention in passing that “Agnes is constantly learning to overcome her own self-doubt and make the best of the talents she has, while coming to grips with her responsibilities of growing up” (Roman 94). That said, this story is a small miracle. It used to be a webcomic and is now a published book. (I feel like that is a trend now but wasn’t so just a few years ago. I could be wrong.) I can certainly see how this kind of presentation of information could work online, but I’m not so sure it works in the book? It’s odd, is all.

And the point is, in terms of “odd” (and in terms of “mystery”) Agnes Quill still delivers on every front.

Why You May Like It: Think Veronica Mars (or whichever female snoop you prefer) meets Buffy (minus the super-strength). Agnes does not compromise on what she thinks is right, and immediately gains the readers’ trust and respect. It also helps that she’s quite witty- a sure way to endear herself to me, at least. Plus, there’s chills and gore and magic and horror and, best of all, no love triangles! Huzzah! In fact, the one almost-romance ends with:

Written by Dave Roman, illustrated by Jeff Zornow, and lettered by John Green. Page 73.
Written by Dave Roman, illustrated by Jeff Zornow, and lettered by John Green. Page 73.

By the by, I am fairly certain one can read most Agnes Quill online for free, so do check that out! (I don’t think the additional texts are available, though.)

Why You May Not Like It: I keep mentioning, whenever I review comics, that you may not like comics. And if you don’t, then … well, it’s not like I’m going to stop recommending them. You like what you like, and maybe we can still be friends. Anyway, some of the illustrations are rather grotesque, and that may not be to your preference. (I found them pretty awesome, to be honest!) Also, this volume leaves some questions unanswered, and we don’t know when the sequel is coming out …

*POSSIBLE SPOILER! Don’t worry, her client made it.