I must admit Jennifer Wilde is my first ‘proper’ introduction to Atomic Diner’s catalogue of comic titles, but with a strong creative team of writers Robert Curley and Maura McHugh with artist Stephen Downey, Jennifer Wilde is a fresh, wonderful and solid title worthy of a future collection of all three issues.
Jennifer Wilde opens in 1920’s Paris, with the eponymous artist (and later, spiritual medium) meeting her estranged father when he arrives into her studio during her portrait studies. They agree to meet again at a place called Maxim’s, until the very next day Jennifer discovers he has suddenly died in the street on his way.
Ignoring the police’s verdict that he simply collapsed in the street, she is suspicious about his death due to conflicting evidence, and this leads her into her own investigation, accidentally summoning the spirit of Oscar Wilde when rummaging through her father’s personal effects. There’s more to her father’s past that initially was known to her however, and her search takes her from Paris to London to Dublin, with Wilde as her ghostly companion.
McHugh’s script crackles from beginning to end, and Jennifer walks a nice balance between being a feminine but down-to-earth heroine. She rarely bats an eyelid at the revelations she uncovers during the story, but she’s sometimes bitter at having her abilities unlocked and open for others to exploit, alongside her own limitations. By the end of the story (which hits a very emotional high) Jennifer accepts having the talents of a medium and being able to move on. Wilde, an ‘old friend’ to Jennifer’s late father, is a constant presence and sometimes a source of comfort to her, and always armed with a smart quip on the side when not eavesdropping on vital information.
The dialogue between them and the characters they encounter feels authentic and, importantly, entertaining at the same time. Downey’s artwork suits the mysterious, noir tone of the story, with ink and wash that delicately illustrates the comic, from gently rendered facial expressions to the rolling seas Jennifer and Wilde cross on their journey. Some of the art has some slight inconsistencies and maybe some short experimental changes in medium between panels, but they are largely not distracting and thankfully the setting and costumes are closely researched.
The result is a genuinely great comic that has the fortune of having a symbiotic team behind it, often hitting all the right notes. If only there were more Irish comic titles with such tight creative forces.