Review – FUN HC (SelfMadeHero)

Publisher: SelfMadeHero
Writer/Artist: Paolo Bacilieri
Release Date:  April 2017

Basing a story around the creation of the crossword puzzle and then turning that story into a compelling narrative was always going to be a bit of a tricky proposition.  However, if Box Brown’s critically acclaimed Tetris: Games People Play has proven nothing else, it’s that in the right hands, any story can become something truly memorable.

Thankfully, Italian artist Paulo Bacilieri has managed to strike pretty much the perfect balance here, framing his graphic novel release from the point of view of two modern-day writers – novelist Professor Pippo Quester and Disney Comics writer Zeno Porno – who find themselves wrapped up in their own puzzling real-life crime mystery while the former writes a book about the history of the crossword.

The first thing that strikes you from the opening pages of FUN is the sheer level of technical draftsmanship on display by Bacilieri.  Impeccably rendered New York buildings set the tone for what is an intricately detailed 296 page book.  And, while the human characters don’t quite reach the dizzying heights of the architecture, there’s still a pleasing level of expression throughout, making this a genuinely striking visual package.

Naturally, the crossword motif is used frequently in terms of the layout and structure of his pages, but Bacilieri also affords himself a little breathing room to play around with the form during the collection of short stories which intersperse the narrative, each providing additional insight into the lives of our two protagonists.  A faint dash of colour sets these apart from the main story, and while they can at times feel like a bit of a distraction from the ongoing narrative, their content proves to be invaluable as the story gradually unfolds.

Aside from the main story featuring Quester and Porno investigating the crime mystery they find themselves embroiled in, the book also features cutaways to Quester’s work on his book, ‘Vertigo Across’, chronicling the meteoric rise of the crossword phenomenon around the globe.  It provides a pleasing juxtaposition to the fictional main story, grounding the events in a sense of reality and – dare I say it – even managing to inject some real life and excitement into the entirely factual evolution of the newspaper-based puzzle.

As you’d expect from Bacilieri, the story is infused with a decidedly European aesthetic and humour throughout, and while it can become a little indulgent and overly verbose at times, for the most part Bacilieri keeps a confident grip of the narrative, steering the story in the right direction in spite of the frequent diversions and potential distractions. There are also moments when both Quester and Porno seem to be speaking in the same voice, delivering dispassionate exposition without any of the charm they’d previously displayed to that point, but thankfully these moments are few and far between, and everything flows smoothly and naturally otherwise.

Ultimately, while a book which is ostensibly about the creation of the humble crossword puzzle could be viewed as a fairly niche proposal, it’s well worth looking beyond the black and white boxes to discover what is a lively and entertaining mystery story.  Another intriguing addition to the SelfMadeHero library, and as I said, proof that in the right hands, any story can become something truly memorable.

Rating: 4/5.

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ceejThe writer of this piece was: Craig Neilson-Adams (aka Ceej)
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