#67 BOOKHUNTER – Jason Shiga
“Library police! Freeze!”
There’s an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry is accused of not returning a library book and then harassed by a hard-boiled, literature-obsessed detective named Lieutenant Bookman. Bookhunter basically takes that character and makes him the star of the story. It’s set in the early 1970s, the glory days of Dirty Harry whom the squinty, sardonic and ever-suspicious Special Agent Bay, Library Marshal, shares a few personality traits with. Bay also shares his name with Michael Bay, who directs exactly the kind of action movies the comic borrows a lot of its tropes from.
Bookhunter’s imitation of the genre is flawless, with needlessly dangerous driving, punchy dialogue and smirking one-liners delivered right at the climax of ballets of destruction. True to type the story begins by showing the star in his element, raiding the apartment of a potential book burner and defusing a ‘hostage crisis’ in the most senselessly violent way imaginable. It’s glorious and if Bookhunter ended at the close of this 12-page introduction it would still be worth reading, but the fact that it manages to maintain its perfect imitation throughout an entire book is what’s really impressive. Even the exposition scene where a more serious crime is examined – the forgery and theft of a bible that’s 500 years old – plays out exactly like something from CSI only with the forensics jargon replaced with book-speak. Shining one of those coloured lights on the book, the expert says, “Moving on, the inks appear slightly variant under IR filters. This means he probably buys his ink in concentrate and thins it out himself.” “It also means he opened another can halfway through the run!” Bay observes. “Bingo!” Cue music, end scene.
It’s funny, both as a spot-on parody of crime fiction and as a work of cartooning. Shiga’s bug-eyed and dumpy characters look hilarious waving guns around and leaping across rooftops. Bookhunter’s strongest appeal is for hardcore book-lovers though, people who fantasise about a better world in which we care about books enough to make spine-breaking punishable by life imprisonment and there’s a detective out there willing to risk his life by leaping from a speeding Bookmobile just for a chance of catching a hardened library thief.