“Ripples: A Detective’s Diary” is a comic from Swedish publishing house Peow Studio that doesn’t resemble anything else. Maps, timelines, and character sketches intermingle to form the loveliest police procedural you’ll ever flip through.
Written and illustrated by Wai Wai Pang
A detective story, like if Twin Peaks was less scary and more bizarre in a cute way. And in Britain. First time debut from Wai Wai Pang, this book was highly anticipated in big UK newspaper The GUARDIAN, and now we can read it.
There’s something weird going on in the town of Big Lake. Two big-city detectives are on the case, and peering into this notebook gives us a surprising – and delightful – window into their investigations.
At a glance, Wai Wai Pang’s art looks like the finessed final form of your Grade 5 doodles – particularly if you were into Harriet the Spy, or Amelia’s Notebook. All in pencil, deftly smudged, and featuring bits of eraser dust, there’s a warm, nostalgic feeling to every page.
Maps and floorplans make up a significant percentage of the pagecount – often with a legend, designating different symbols for our characters, so that they can continue their dialogue in speech bubbles. There are also frequent character profiles, listing physical characteristics and featuring sketches from different angles. Illustrated timelines reconstruct events – once, with two characters’ accounts juxtaposed side-by-side – and help us keep up with the shifting narrative.
Pang’s characters are rounded, often androgynous, simplified without veering into blankness, and sometimes have unexplained animal characteristics. This last tendency adds to the whimsical tone while somewhat complicating the mythology of the world itself. We’re asked, it seems, to go with the flow – if a waitress is a seal, that’s her business.
All of this, let’s not forget, is in service of a story wherein two detectives search for a missing boy. Is there a thematic mismatch? I mean, not really. Besides being cute and novel, the unique storytelling devices suit the police procedural format perfectly, exposing the detectives’ deductive processes in addition to giving us a real feel for the town of Big Lake. It also seems like the more peripheral a character is to the story, the more likely that character is to be fantastical, which is a nice touch in itself. Colorful minor characters are a staple of the genre after all.
Pan and Kylie, our detectives, are rendered with careful, sparing detail, each coming across as kind, thoughtful, and determined. As they interview characters and discuss among themselves, Pang’s neat hand lettering keeps the dialogue clear and well-situated amongst all the ruled lines and precise maps.
The structure of the story sometimes feels a little stilted, because the maps slow things down, drawing attention to details that might not be important after all. Again, this still makes perfect sense for the format, but the coherence of the book as a whole sometimes suffers.
There is sometimes a break from the format, and a scene is laid out more conventionally: panels, gutters, and speech bubbles get it all done. Necessary to flesh out the story properly, these interludes are far from boring, with Pang making use of graceful layouts and a more high-definition approach to scene-setting detail. Smudgier, more expressive pencil work here shifts the tone, letting us enjoy the beauty of the surroundings.
Towards the end of the book, matters seem to be taking both a dark and surreal turn, and the hinge between this moment and the ending is probably the most interesting element of the story. The suspense – and dread as to what might really have happened – suddenly undercut the light, playful tone of the pages that came before. There’s room to wonder, for a hot second, if this is a depressing book that’s been masquerading as something else. But you turn a page, and… Well.
The ending hangs together well enough, restoring harmony to the book’s overall tone, but does happen a little too quickly. That’s kind of the point, of course – it underscores that sometimes, no matter how great your detecting, there are always mistakes and human errors that can’t be accounted for. It does feel, however, like an extra page somewhere in the mix would smooth the transition without necessarily ruining the surprise.Continued below
Overall, “Ripples” is just one of those weird gems you hope to be fortunate enough to come across. Its casual look and slightly tattered structure are part of the fun, with the light content and tone extending its audience into the YA range. It’s always gratifying to come across a story that feels like something new, and if off-kilter comics are your thing, both Wai Wai Pang and Peow Studio should get a star on your map.
“Ripples” might not be available at every bookstore, so the best way to get your hands on it is to go straight to the source.