Green River Killer is a based-on-a-true-story fiction comic that delicately presents humanity in a murder story. Now, this humanity isn’t necessarily directed towards the murderer, although it doesn’t rail against him. Instead, the comic asks why or what would lead a person to do these things.
The comic does not present the story from the perspective of the killer who may or may not be caught at any given time, but opts to focus on the lead investigator detective Tom Jensen. Writer Jeff Jensen happens to have great knowledge of the case on the detective’s side since Tom Jensen is his father. A certain amount of authenticity is brought to the story with this relationship.
Prior knowledge of the story is not needed to enjoy the comic, although it helps to have a clue. For instance, I lived in Tacoma – about half an hour south of Seattle – and had some familiarity with the serial murders. Most of this, however, came from those true life cheesy recreation stories on TV. I didn’t live through this like many people in the area did, but I had heard about it. Actually, coming to this story without much previous knowledge allows you to be more drawn into the story without over-analyzing everything.
The writing strikes a chord because you become so heavily invested in Tom Jensen’s mission, and he becomes real to you without ever meeting the real life Tom Jensen. He is a man with burdens upon his shoulders and a dedication to one sole mission; he’s someone you can rally behind. The writing also shows a lot of the confusion and frustration involved for Jensen and the other detectives even after they bring in Gary Ridgway. How do you go through with finding the history of a serial killer?
Jeff Jensen manipulates time with the use of multiple time periods without ever losing the reader. It causes parallels and themes to the story and provides the reader with clues. You know Gary is the killer, right? But there’s more to that underneath his 48+ murders.
I’m a sucker for black and white artwork. I love seeing the raw ink strokes and detail. The great thing about Jonathan Case is that he adds just enough detail to the scenes while not drawing away the focus. It’s impressive how subtle his art really is. He draws a lot of talking heads, but each one has a slightly different expression making no two panels the same. He can really convey a whole array of emotions with just a slight line manipulation. Even though it’s a crime comic, Case doesn’t go with the typical heavy shadows which actually benefits the story. The best thing about the art, however, is Case’s use of splash pages. I’m usually not too big on splash pages, but there were two in a row where I literally said “wow” aloud. That’s how gripping the art is.
There were little problems in the comic. My one worry is the reread factor. That’s where the art comes in, but it may be hard with a story you already know the outcome of particularly with something from real life.
Overall, the effect of the book mirrors the impact of the splash pages – a big “wow.” It latched me into the story causing me to read it within one sitting. The graphic novel truly deserves its recently announced Eisner Award.