Liar’s Kiss by Eric Skillman and Jhomar Soriano

Posted by on February 18th, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Top Shelf Productions; 120 pp.; $14.95; B&W; Hardcover (ISBN: 9781603090704)

Much like the Western, the street-smart, urban detective story is an almost immediately recognizable American genre.  Although 19h-century precedents on both sides of the Atlantic, and some well into the early-20th century, complicate specific cultural origins of the gumshoe narratives, few can ignore the transformative power and influence of cinematic representations by Humphrey Bogart in the 1930s and 1940s, regardless if it was a Hammett or Chandler storyline.  Add writers such as Mickey Spillane, James M. Cain, and Jim Thompson into the mix in the 1940s and 1950s and audiences can easily see a thematic lineage stretching to the present in the contemporary noir settings of James Ellroy or David Lynch.  In fact, cinema, perhaps even more than the literature itself, has shaped the visual iconography of the detective genre so much that any modern tale cannot escape being held up against film imagery—damp city streets, trench-coats and fedoras, femme fatales, etc.

While Vertigo has made a strong push as of late with its own Vertigo Crime imprint (see Rat Catcher) and Dark Horse recently published an anthology aptly titled Noir in 2009, the results across the board and publishing spectrum are hit-and-miss.  Yet, newcomer Eric Skillman deserves a place alongside Frank Miller, Brian Azzarello, Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke as a vibrant storyteller based on his debut graphic novel, Liar’s Kiss.

Finding a balance between originality and honoring the literary or cinematic conventions versus sheer imitation and mimicry of them is far more subjective than objective when it comes to crime-noir comics.  While it may sound trite, a successful detective story requires not only a believable central character and supportive cast, but a narrative that has not simply been regurgitated anew—a problem indicative of the crime-comics genre.  Oftentimes, noir comics also rely far too much on the strengths of the visualizations to supplement a slow-paced or blatantly weak premise.  Liar’s Kiss suffers from neither of these potential setbacks.

A classic “whodunit,” Liar’s Kiss returns to the inverted shadowy stylings of Miller at times along with crisp, yet hardly refined, rough line art that grabs the reader from the first page.  In fact, the opening of Liar’s Kiss is paced much like a film as the introduction and titles are buttressed by a graphic sexual encounter between the two lead protagonists.  Soriano has achieved a delicate middle ground between overtly heavy lines and reliance on deep blacks to create the atmosphere.  In stark contrast, his utilization of whites is far more impressive in both background and foreground renderings.  The most visually stunning aspect, however, of Soriano’s art is in his ink-wash tones for the flashback sequences.  Set side-by-side with the real-time events of the book, these grayscale effects provide a seamless background for Skillman’s script.  By the end of the book, I found myself wanting to read an entire Soriano graphic novel in this style as he achieves in black and white what fellow Filipino artist, Francis Manapul, does in vibrant colors on The Flash.

Skillman also recognizes that the hard-boiled format requires short, quick and sharp dialogue as opposed to exposition and monologues.  This is reflected in the pacing and flow of the story, and never lets up; however, Skillman also uses chapter headings and breaks to emphasize story developments and focus readers’ attention where it needs to be.  The result is an intricate plot with just the right amount of twists to keep audiences guessing as to the villain’s true identity.

Skillman and Soriano have also collaborated on the indy, Egg: Hard-Boiled Stories.  The two seem a natural fit.  A solid story with powerful illustrations, Liar’s Kiss is a strong addition to Top Shelf’s catalog.

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One Response to “Liar’s Kiss by Eric Skillman and Jhomar Soriano”

  1. [...] is a link to my review of Eric Skillman’s The Liar’s Kiss from Top Shelf at The Comics [...]