The Dead Boy Detectives

Writer / Artist
The Dead Boy Detectives
The Dead Boy Detectives by Jill Thompson review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Vertigo - 1-4012-0313-2
  • Release date: 2005
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781401203139
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: yes
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes
  • CATEGORIES: Drama, Humour, Young Adult

Although whimsical creations, both before and after Jill Thompson the Dead Boy Detectives were treated as more serious characters, but there’s a good case to be made for her mangaesque interpretation being more true to their intent. Charles Rowland and Edwin Paine are contacted by pupils at an exclusive Chicago girls’ school. Elizabeth, one of their classmates is missing, and the staff are fobbing off all questions, acting as if she never attended the school, but for Charles and Edwin to circulate there, they’re going to need a makeover…

Thompson’s art draws heavily on manga, but without entirely discarding years of looking at American comics, resulting in a very appealing fusion of exaggeration and detail. An excellently drawn sequence introduces the teaching staff, or suspects as they become, almost all with something sinister about them in a wonderful series of portraits. Manga also suits her characterisation of Charles and Edwin, both of whom died at thirteen, so have that teenage awkwardness around girls, although adapt with little comment to their new cross-dressing identities.

As Charles and Edwin investigate they uncover a fair amount of Elizabeth’s possessions in unexpected places, and make the occasional use of their ghostly talents. Fun is the operative mood. There’s the sense that Thompson had a lot of fun producing Dead Boy Detectives, and she provides a lot of fun dissecting the routine of the exclusive girls’ school, all the while keeping things at a young adult level. A little too much time is spent providing some ridiculous explanations for mysterious events – “I’m addicted to junk food. I used the secret stairway to sneak up into the attic to binge” – but the final revelations are neat even if they do require the intrusion of the modern. They’re also a neat reversal in another respect, cementing a story that’s slight, but charming.

The digest format takes another leaf from manga by including fifteen pages previewing Thompson’s manga take on another of Neil Gaiman’s characters in Death at Death’s Door. It also features Charles and Edwin.