Some stories don’t “unfold” so much as they’re peeled back, each layer revealing another underneath, until the reader finally arrives at the core. Such is the case with the fourth installment in British cartoonist B. Mure’s “Ismyre” series of graphic novels, Methods Of Dyeing (Avery Hill, 2021), and while one could make a strong case that the title itself is both too clever and too obvious by half, given the narrative centers around an investigation of a murdered botanist/professor whose particular area of expertise is plant-based dyes, it’s just as accurate to say that most everything else on offer here is shrouded in a definite air of mystery.
It’s a mystery of a very — and, for the record, appealingly — singular nature, though : one that takes its time, isn’t afraid to savor its own richness, and gently takes the reader along for the ride. Certainly there’s enough by way of revelations going on for this to have been a fast-paced, suspenseful work, if that was the direction Mure had chosen to go, but the fact that it concerns itself instead with establishing its own tempo and temperament speaks to the confidence this cartoonist has in both their methodology and their fictitious de facto “universe.” It’s a comic that’s entirely comfortable in its own skin, immune to the pressures of trying to be what audiences could, at first glance, be forgiven for assuming it either should or must be.
Speaking of audiences, while it’s fair to say that some working knowledge of the world of Ismyre certainly doesn’t hurt going into this, it’s in no way necessary, and I daresay any newcomers are likely to be impressed enough by what they discover here to find themselves sufficiently motivated to track down previous volumes — but the laconic pacing and efficiently minimalist dialogue may require some getting used to on the part of so-called “newbies.” That’s certainly not a criticism by any means — a comic that demands you meet it on its own level is, after all, usually the best kind of comic there is (hell, some might say comics of that nature are the only type worth reading, and I’m not prepared to refute that opinion) — but it does mean that it’s incumbent upon Mure to roll out the red carpet and welcome folks in, metaphorically speaking. No need to fear on that score, though — this story may not propel itself forward in any traditional sense, but it does exert an inexorable pull, a siren call that one can’t help but feel compelled to follow, wherever it may lead.
It also doesn’t hurt that it’s so damn gorgeous to look at. Mure’s cartooning is soft, wistful, warm, welcoming, offering a compelling contrast to the violence at the center of the proceedings and the dread as our gender-norms-bending anthropomorphic animal investigator — who would seem to be hiding a few secrets of her own — works toward solving the case. The fluid strokes of Mure’s brush line and the lithe application of watercolors are enough to fool you into thinking Ismyre is a peaceful idyll of a village, but underneath those surfaces beats what is, at the very least, a semi-dark heart. This might be a perfectly fine comic to show kids, sure, but tonally and thematically, a “kids’ comic” it is not.
And yet, there’s a tangible sense of wonder that informs everything here that’s well and truly childlike in terms of its sheer infectiousness. Mure is clearly having a blast hooking us on the line and reeling us in, and even appears to take a certain amount of glee in yanking us subtly in the wrong direction on occasion. These are all familiar enough tropes that are being exploited, it’s true — but that’s what makes their nod-and-wink subversion so effective. This isn’t a comic out to re-write any rulebook, but to play against expectation precisely because you know the rules — and Mure knows that you know them. I promise that last sentence makes sense — or at least, it will once you’ve read this book.
Which, not to put too fine a point on it, should be your next move. Methods Of Dyeing is a quiet little marvel that fully immerses you in a world you won’t won’t to leave — even as it becomes clear that world is fraught with more peril than appearances would initially suggest. Granted, appearances can always be deceiving — but the spell that this comic casts on you is as real as it gets.
Methods Of Dyeing is available from Avery Hill Publishing at https://averyhillpublishing.bigcartel.com/product/pre-order-methods-of-dyeing-by-b-mure
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