Thursday Comics Hangover: The know-it-all

Paul Tobin and Alberto J. Alburquerque’s comic Mystery Girl, now on its second issue, is an absolute delight so far. Here’s the little blurb at the beginning of each book that explains the premise:

Trine Hampstead knows everything. No mystery is too small or too weird for London’s premier sidewalk detective — and she truly knows it all, from your most personal secrets to the details of the deepest, most incredible conspiracies. The only thing Trine doesn’t know is how she knows everything.

Trine is a woman of color living in London. Every day, she lays out a carpet on the sidewalk, sets up a lawn chair, and solves mysteries. (She attracts clients by shouting at passersby: “No mystery too large or too dumb, mostly!”) Happily, despite the fact that she knows everything about everyone, Trine is a chipper, friendly, optimistic person. Just reading Mystery Girl feels like a relief; if a semi-omniscient sidewalk detective can look on the bright side of life, surely there’s hope for the rest of us, right?

Mystery Girl’s plot is unfolding slowly; Trine is heading to Russia to unravel a complex mystery involving a mammoth, even as her friends are getting mixed up with trouble that involves a creepy hitman.Tobin wisely puts the emphasis on Trine’s characterization in the first two books of the series — her sweetness is as much of a draw as the book’s central mystery at this point.

Alburquerque’s art is reminiscent of comics great Ernie Colón, which is to say he combines a lot of detail with cartoonish faces that display a range of emotions. Occasionally, his anatomy needs work — a chin appears to melt off a character’s face mid-conversation, a woman’s rib cage seems to turn boxy and lumpen — but each of his expressive characters look like unique human beings with inner lives and distinct backgrounds, so I’m inclined to forgive him the rare lapse in anatomical mindfulness.

Mystery Girl feels like a combination of the podcast Mystery Show, the Encyclopedia Brown books, and a Zadie Smith novel. You want to bathe in the world of the book, in part because the scale feels exactly right. Sure, Trine is leaving the relative comfort of her London sidewalk detective business to head to Russia, but the stakes feel relatively modest. Just because Trine knows the solution to every mystery presented to her doesn’t mean that she knows everything. Omniscience does not solve all your problems; sometimes context is what matters most.