The Leopard (#1) – Sarah Horrocks

2 out of 5

I knew Sarah Horrocks’ The Leopard was going to be a hard sell for me, but I wanted to give it a shot anyway.  I adore Sarah’s critical writing on comics – which is how I stumbled across her work – and I also really, really love her general artistic style.  The loose, sketchy expressionism leans in to guys like Bill Sienkiewicz or Teddy Kristiansen, with a fantastically unreal sense of color that makes any given page worth scrutinizing.  However, regarding those two examples, I accepted a while back that, though I enjoyed looking at their stuff, I had a hard time reading it in comic form.  But I wasn’t trying anything on which they were both writer and artist, and encouraged by how engrossing Sarah’s blogs were, I wanted the combination to convince me that this more outlandish style could work for me in sequential panel form.

That bias (although mixed with hope) hung over me while I read The Leopard, and after giving it a few tries to sink in, some other artistic choices – the cramped, hand-done lettering, the rotating point of view – ultimately didn’t allow me to appreciate the book.

The Leopard may or may not be a murder mystery.  A bickering, mixed up family descends on an island on which their mother lives to discuss what’s going to happen with their inheritance.  While Sarah offers us a couple of pages that call out names to match to faces, we’re dumped into the deep end of the family’s history, and the constant palette swapping and looseness of the form that I admire work against being able to easily identify who and who are who.  But there’s some wonderfully bitter, mixed up stuff going on amongst the clan, with sexual trysts and good ol’ fashioned bigotry, and, in one of my favorite I-have-no-idea-what’s-going-on-here scenes, fussing around with octopi.  And then there’s a brutal murder, with an awesomely ghastly two page spread.

Leopard-like spots are a commonly recurring color effect, though they render some pages a tad unreadable.  While there are obviously some beats I admire, the book would seem to have too much of a narrative to kick over into full surreality to support those beats, and the way it’s presented just made me completely unable to grasp more than the highest level of that narrative, if even that.