Unlike most mysteries, “The Creep” focuses more on the buildup and deep character work instead of the actual solving of the puzzle. Oxel Karnhus is a private investigator suffering from a disease called acromegaly, which can manifest in such ways as physical disfigurement and a drastic transformation of one’s voice. One day he receives a letter from his college sweetheart, Stephanie Brinke, telling him that her son Curtis and his best friend have committed suicide. She convinces Oxel to help her figure out why they would do such a thing. The police are no help to her at all and refuse to dig further into the tragedy. Suicides, they tell her, are a part of life. Writer John Arcudi and artist Jonathan Case create a story where characters are racked with guilt, feel utterly alone in the world, and are trapped within the past. The pacing of the story may seem slow, but it only adds to the mood of the miniseries and the characters’ inner workings. The people inhabiting “The Creep” are living lives of quiet desperation, each with a depth that instills uneasiness within the reader. However, one feels sympathy for characters who keep certain emotions and secrets concealed from each other. Reading between the lines is what Arcudi seems to goad the reader into doing, while Case is given free reign to transform Arcudi’s sparse plot into a stunning piece of work. Without Case’s art, Arcudi’s story would certainly not have the impact it has here within these pages.
People’s perceptions and how they can become skewed is brought to the fore brilliantly by Jonathan Case. As Oxel is reading the letter from Stephanie, the art becomes sketchy and becomes a watercolor world. The colors become noticeably brighter for such a somber situation, with Stephanie recounting her story directly to Oxel (and the reader). She mentions that she has divorced her husband, which explains the change to her maiden name. A woman’s hand is shown in a panel taking a ring off, with the next panel having the hand drop the ring. In the final panel of this “watercolor” scene, bright empty orange is shown. Like Oxel, she is alone. Shortly after, Oxel calls Stephanie, with her scenes having the same unearthly watercolor feel. Oxel clearly adored this woman and has an idealization from the past of what she looks like now. He, however, has changed. She has remained young and idealized in his mind. Later on, he’ll see that she, like him, has changed physically and may not have remained the same person he fell for as a young and vastly different person (inside and out). Arcudi gives Case much leeway in his art to interpret the story with what little dialogue and voiceover there is in the story (splendid as they may be). By doing this, Case is able to express in art (like these scenes) what cannot be said with words.
One aspect of Case’s artwork that aids in bringing character across is his immensely expressive facial expressions and reactions he elicits through that art. The first page where Curtis is about to commit suicide has a panel simply containing his eyes, which convey such horrendous despair. His brow is furrowed and filled with a pain that seems close to bursting. In one scene, Oxel is poring over evidence while a prostitute named Annie lays in his bed. Her face emanates a plethora of emotions in just four pages: lust, displeasure, derision, shock, anger, and back to lust again. Even minor characters such as Annie are lovingly given attention to detail. Arcudi wrote Annie into the scene, yet Case infused humanity in a character that could have just been treated as a throwaway character.
Oxel is frequently alone in this miniseries, with only his voiceover (which is given nice touches by Arcudi to imbue the story with “detective yarn” dialogue). In another scene, Oxel says he has to do “something so I can hate myself a little less. Something that’ll help me get rid of all this aimless anger. Something.” He feels powerless with everything, especially the outcome of the case, that is going on around him. In this scene, he confronts one of his tormentors. His imposing figure looms large over the young man, with the bright city lamp illuminating his immense body. His deformed visage is covered in shadow, yet betrays a steely resolve instead of a fearful and cowering man. His silence scares the boy, who runs away with an expression of fear. Oxel experiences character growth and progression right before the reader’s eyes and Arcudi and Case do not even once “tell” the reader what to experience, but simply “show” life.
The characters who are involved in the horrendous suicides (the two boys and Stephanie’s father) are racked with guilty feelings and a sense of utter despair and loneliness for certain events that have happened in the past. Oxel, as well as other major and incidental characters, feel a sense of hopelessness as well. Yet there resides power in truth, and that’s what this book lays before the reader, allowing him or her to discover that for themselves. Simple tropes, such as doing the right thing and revealing every emotion (good and bad) out in the open, are shown to be antidotes to the most heinous and uncomfortable feelings or actions that one may experience or commit in their lives. Oxel took on a case that brought him on a journey to places that reside not only in him, but in all of humanity. Wrapped beautifully in a mystery noir is a tale of where that humanity can end up in its darkest hour.
Written by: John Arcudi
Art: Jonathan Case
Letters: Nate Piekos of Blambot
Publisher: Dark Horse
Original Publication Date: April 2013
Pages: 136 pages