Review: ‘The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch’
Neil Gaiman has been too busy lately to write much for comics unless it’s an event — like 1602 or his curiously pointless Eternals miniseries — but there’s still an audience for his stories in the direct market. So what’s a poor comics publisher to do? Well, if it’s Dark Horse, what you do is get various folks to adapt Gaiman stories into comics and publish them as slim trade-paperback-sized hardcovers. So far, Michael Zulli did Creatures of the Night, John Bolton adapted Harlequin Valentine, and P. Craig Russell tackled Murder Mysteries. And now Zullis is back again for:
The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch
By Neil Gaiman, Michael Zulli, and Todd Klein
Dark Horse Books, May 2008, $13.95
Now, for most writers, “[[[The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch]]]” would be by far their longest title ever, but Gaiman is not most writers. He’s also responsible for “[[[Being An Experiment Upon Strictly Scientific Lines Assisted By Unwins LTD, Wine Merchants (Uckfield)]]]” ” [[[Forbidden Brides Of The Faceless Slaves In The Nameless House Of The Night Of Dread Desire]]],” ” [[[I Cthulhu: Or What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47º 9′ S, Longitude 126º 43′ W)?]]],” and ” [[[Pages From A Journal Found In A Shoebox Left In A Greyhound Bus Somewhere Between Tulsa, Oklahoma, And Louisville, Kentucky]]].” So “[[[Miss Finch]]]” may just be one of Gaiman’s more punchy and terse titles.
According to the Neil Gaiman Visual Bibliography — and why should we mistrust it? — “Miss Finch” is one of Gaiman’s more obscure stories, showing up in the program book for the convention Tropicon XVII and a magazine called Tales of the Unanticipated before turning up in one of his collections — though in a different one depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on.
“Miss Finch” is narrated by a man who never tells us his name, a writer very much like Neil Gaiman. He’s an expatriate Englishman, back in London for a short time to write a film script in peace and semi-secrecy. But two old friends – a TV presenter named Jonathan and his wife, the writer Jane – find out that he’s in town, and drag him along for a night of circus and sushi.
They’ve been lumbered with an acquaintance whose name, we’re told firmly, is not Miss Finch, but that’s what we’re going to call her. Finch is a grumpy, unpleasant woman, a biologist by trade and a complainer by nature, who sucks the meager joy out of any situation, no matter how small. Jonathan and Jane have enlisted not-Neil in an attempt to more fully outnumber her, and rescue some fun from the night.
The circus is an underground affair – literally and figuratively, put on by odd types in a series of cellars underneath train tracks. It’s all tarted-up versions of traditional midway acts, put on in a series of rooms, and of varying levels of interest – some are dull, but a few are better than that.
And then…something unexpected happens, something that leads to Miss Finch’s “departure.” It’s all very numinous and larger-than-life, but I can’t say that I entirely believe Miss Finch, as depicted earlier in the story, would really go along with it. (Or perhaps that’s the point – that it was not really her, as a person, by then.)
Anyway, I can only be vague without giving it all away, which I don’t want to do. The story is atmospheric and evocative, clearly narrated by the Gaiman character – and full of his words – without bogging down in too many captions or speech balloons. Zulli’s art is all loose, sketchy pen lines under carefully varied watercolors, adding to the energy of what could have been very talky pages.
[[[The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch]]] is exceptionally successful as a comic, as an adaptation of the original story, and as a showcase for Zulli, who’s never gotten as much attention as he deserves. But I expect it will probably sell primarily because of the name “Neil Gaiman” on the front.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.