For a brief period around the turn of the 21st century Roman Dirge’s adventures of a little dead girl proved very popular, but it’s difficult to figure out what the appeal is from this first selection. Dirge feeds into a gloomy gothic nihilism, and a line can be drawn between the style of Edwin Gorey’s grim fables and Lenore, but there all comparisons end. There’s a precision and a progression to Gorey’s work, but we drift into Lenore’s world where something grim happens, and drift out again. Strips rarely extend beyond five pages, and if they do somewhere along the way there’ll be a complete switch of direction, and because Lenore herself only features in around half the material the impression is given of Dirge having a very short attention span. Coupled with strips where very little happens before a punchline of Lenore stabbing someone or something equally inappropriate, it makes for a very rapid read.

Dirge has an effective lumpy cartooning style, presenting Lenore as a vacant innocent that people respond to as cute, and his single page images are strong, every one a t-shirt design, but he lacks a sense of storytelling. He frequently resorts to silent reaction panels for emphasis, but this is with characters not facially constructed for reactions, and while intended as atmospheric, all they do is pad out already slim stories.

In addition to the Lenore strips, Dirge turns out grim representations of nursery rhymes or children’s songs, and strange, dream-like meanderings which become more ambitious as the book continues. Occasionally Dirge’s gloomy wanderings do hit on something of resonance, such as the rhyming story of a boy whose heart is kept in a box by his grandfather. It’s three pages of superlative bleakness, but there’s not enough like this. Also funny are the personal one pagers where Dirge muses on his own life, or death.

There has to be a caveat to this review. Look online, and there will be review after review that finds Dirge’s brand of death-obsessed nihilism refreshingly different and praiseworthy. Perhaps you’ll respond similarly.

Lenore was first issued in black and white, but success led to colour being added, so there are alternative editions. Wedgies is next.