Monday, December 1, 2014

Comic Book Murder

Weet jij het ook?
"Inspecteur Netjes"

Do you know too?
"Inspector Netjes" 

I read a fair amount of mystery manga, but this might be the first time I review a non-Japanese mystery comic here. I'll still use the manga tag though for (my) convenience's sake.

Inspecteur Netjes ("Inspector Netjes") was a Dutch comic by cartoonist Hanco Kolk that ran in various magazines, but is mostly known for its original run (1989-1999) in the comic magazine Sjosji, named after the comic book characters Sjors & Sjimmie. Inspector Netjes, who borrowed his fashion sense from Maigret, is a hardworking police detective who together with his subordinate Gremmel somehow manages to arrive at the crime scene almost immediately every other week. Every adventure showed the reader the crime scene and a short interview with each suspects, after which the comic would end with a Challenge to the Reader: you could find the solution (always three panels!) printed upside down in a different section of the magazine. There have been only two collected volumes of the inspector, the first being Inspecteur Netjes: Voor Al Uw Zaken ("Inspector Netjes: For All Of Your Cases", 1998), which collects 52 stories from the early years.

Inspecteur Netjes is a comic I've always loved, but with few and limited collected volumes released, the Inspector is probably not as well known in the Dutch comic scene nowadays as let's say, ten, fifteen years ago. I myself haven't come across any of the comics for at least ten years now. As a mystery comic, Inspecteur Netjes is the ultimate guess-the-criminal format story. Every episode is incredibly streamlined (each story is just one page long) and almost all comics follow the following set-up:

1) The first panel depicts the crime scene. The comic starts with "Not long after XXXXX, Inspector Netjes arrived on the scene".
2) The Inspector interviews the suspects. Almost always three suspects, who each get one panel.
3) The one-to-final panel ends with the Inspector declaring he know knows who the culprit is.
4) The final panel ends with everybody, including the Inspector, facing the reader, yelling "Do you know too?".
5) The solution consists of three panels.

Inspecteur Netjes is the detective story condensed to its leanest puzzle form and it's a form I love: you hear me often write about the guess-the-criminal type detective stories and Inspecteur Netjes is one that pulls it off perfectly in highly stylized form. Other mystery comics like Conan and Kindaichi Shounen of course feature much richer environments, characters and setting, but for those who just want to enjoy the pure puzzle element of a guess-the-criminal script, Inspecteur Netjes is much more accessible.

Each story is just one page long, so the mystery plots are usually very simple. Like Ellery Queen's Puzzle Club or Encyclopedia Brown stories, the solution to each mystery usually depends on one single contradiction or clue. What's interesting is that that clues in Inspecteur Netjes are usually very visual; the stories almost always make good use of the visual medium. I also love the simplistic and funny artstyle of the comics, but don't get fooled: there's usually some clue hidden in the background.

I don't plan to discuss all fifty-two stories of the volume, but to pick out some of the gems: The Murdered Gorilla (De Vermoorde Gorilla) is a fantastic story about, well, a murdered gorilla in a zoo. The clueing is good, it's funny and the comic makes great use of its medium. The Disappearing Piece of Art (Het Verdwijnende Kunstwerk) too is a story that only works because this is a comic and is one to remember. The Missing Missing Person (De Vermiste Vermiste) is a lot more 'normal' as a detective comic than the previous two, but again a great example of misdirection based on its medium.

Is it all good? Well, no. While the dialogues and art are always good, some stories are really nothing more than just 'spot-the-little-clue-hidden-in-the-background'. For each of the good stories mentioned above, you have like three or four rather uninspired ones. I think Inspecteur Netjes works better in this collected volume compared to when it was just one comic a week though. Even though not every comic is as good as another, at least the selection does feature some great ones; if you had to read Inspecteur Netjes at a rate of one comic in one or two weeks, you might get bored because some are just so predictable.

Inspecteur Netjes is on the whole a great series though, as it combines comedy and mystery in a very enjoyable manner. Sure, some stories are not as good as others, but as a collected volume, I think Inspecteur Netjes: Voor Al Uw Zaken is a fun Dutch mystery comic.

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