Pirate Eye, Vol. 1
Raymond Chandler Meets Jack Sparrow
If he was given a different name at birth, Smitty does not reveal it. For now, that's who he is, though this former pirate doesn't work metal, he works cases. In the narrative he runs for us, he calls himself a "finder," but we know what he is: a gumshoe, a private investigator, a detective.
But he lives in a time before those terms would come into common parley, so Finder will have to do. Though he might balk if you mention it, he also works under a decent code of honor, too, and not just that of the High Seas.
Because whatever caused Smitty to stop being a pirate, it mostly keeps him on dry land. His fellow pirates do not take kindly to what they perceive as betrayal, whether it's true or not.
Writer Josiah Grahn doles out a few pieces of that overarching puzzle in the four loosely connected stories in this new trade collection from Action Lab Comics. Not all the pieces are there, but just enough keep it interesting as we see different facets of Smitty's livelihood.
When getting the gist of Pirate Eye, it seems a concept so ripe it's a wonder no one has tried it before. And though occasionally the tenets of the noir detective story do not fit perfectly comfortably in a world of buccaneers and brigands, this still works well.
The first story deals with the trope of the lost daughter, but with a dark 18th Century twist. Though the beats could be right out of Raymond Chandler, it isn't jarring, and Grahn never breaks the rules of his setting. Even when he moves to a "locked boat" mystery. Smitty's powers of deduction feel like the result of an inquisitive man who doesn't need to be a genius, or ahead of his time, just nagged by a need for the truth, no matter what the cost.
Grahn also uses that "Finder" habit to mix things up, so each of the four stories here feel different enough to keep a pattern from forming. This mash-up just keeps working.
The art by Carl Yonder works for the most part, but it also feels like Yonder is searching for a style that works best for him. In the first story, it veers between the stylized realism of an Alex Maleev, which is good, to a more cartoonish stylization that is also good but doesn't quite match. And Smitty looks an awful lot like Keanu Reeves, with panels photoshopped and repeated to save time. (But then, that's also in keeping with Maleev's work.)
When Yonder settles down in the second story, it feels more consistent and assured -- though occasionally a panel crops up that is clearly using an out of place influence.
It may not be perfectly realistic, but it starts to feel less self-consciously like comics and just good storytelling. And Yonder does have a good storytelling sense that gets better with each issue.
Logically, then, the fourth story has the most assured style, and Yonder really breaks out with his layouts, making it the most fun to peruse. Conversely, it's Grahn's least portentous of the tales, again proving how flexible his basic concept is.
So we haven't really paid enough attention to Action Lab Entertainment, an imprint that arose last year. It's time to change that, and start paying more attention from time to time. If the other books are this fun, everybody's going to be hearing more from them soon. Make this a good starting point -- at $11.99, it's a pretty solid deal and an interesting genre trip.
Find this book and, of course, any comics you like at your local comics shop. We recommend Earth-2 Comics in Northridge, Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, Illusive Comics & Games, Hijinx Comics and The Comic Bug -- and many, many more in a neighborhood near you.