Minky Woodcock: The Girl who Handcuffed Houdini Issue One
Cynthia von Buhler (Writer/Artist)
November 15 2017
The first thing I thought when I saw the cover of Minky Woodcock: The Girl who Handcuffed Houdini was, “what the heck kind of name is Minky Woodcock?” I was distracted by the choice of name for the duration of the comic.
I regret to inform you that Minky Woodcock never explained itself, where names are concerned. The comic refuses to explain itself where anything is concerned. Minky Woodcock doesn’t live up to the potential of its pulp playground premise. It is a fever dream.
Let’s be fair: it’s clear that the comic is meant to be a little feverish. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – author of Sherlock Holmes – is alive and well in what appears to be the 1940s. Said author believes Harry Houdini has supernatural powers that he uses toward nefarious ends. The heroine’s father’s name is Benedick(?) Woodcock. Von Buhler’s dialogue reads like a high person’s approximation of what not-high human beings say to each other. Combined with Minky Woodcock’s pulpy, noir-throwback setting, there is potential for some wild, genre-subverting fun there.
The problem is that the comic is difficult to follow, and consequently, not that fun. There are good and bad fever dreams to be had in media. In a good fever dream, you know you’re watching the creator’s intent unfold, bizarre as it may be. Welcome to a ride through someone else’s subconscious. In a bad fever dream, you can’t tell if it was meant to be surreal, or if the artist just doesn’t have a lot of experience with comics. Admittedly, there are plenty of comics on the internet that toe that line successfully – take something like Tails Gets Trolled, for example.
This is not one of those.
The comic’s off-and-on illegibility doesn’t stem from the plot; it comes almost entirely from von Buhler’s layout/framing problems, and excessively stiff illustrations. The panel illustrations themselves sometimes fail to convey the action taking place, because the artist doesn’t depict them at the clearest moment, or because the character expressions don’t give you necessary information.
Shots are often close up, when pulling back would be more informative. Of note is a seance scene in which a man appears from behind a curtain, spraying water. It was not immediately clear why this was happening, and due to a combination of dialogue and the character’s poses, I thought the heroine was about to be dragged off by this man into some back room for a moment. Nope.
Later on, the female mystic leading the seance sexually assaults the heroine for reasons that are not entirely clear. A protesting Minky has to knee the woman in order to make her stop. It makes little sense. I can’t tell if this unwanted sexual encounter is senseless because some key explanatory panels are missing, or because it’s not supposed to make much sense. It’s baffling. Why, Minky Woodcock?
I think this comic was meant to be funny, but it’s just awkward. The covers are a bright spot! They’re all just gorgeous. I didn’t know you could even hire Rob McGinnis anymore.