NO SECRETS ARE SAFE! Detective Cedric Dustin is a cop with a future: clever, cocky, and opportunistic. So when he receives an anonymous letter accusing a major financial figure of fraud, he jumps at the opportunity to advance his position. As he investigates, however, he discovers that he’s not the only recipient of a letter from the mysterious “L”, and he becomes entangled in the chaos that arises when dark truths are brought to light.
A HISTORY OF MYSTERY
For years, I have loved mystery fiction. Books, movies, television shows, and video games were my primary source for these character puzzles. I loved the challenge, the mental acrobatics that a good mystery requires. The multitude of theories that are conceived at every step of the journey, even when most, if not all, turn out to be completely erroneous. The moment when you learn the truth and suddenly realize what everything actually meant.
Oddly, the one place that I rarely found mysteries was in comics. It wasn't until I discovered The Kindaichi Case Files, a manga that told the type of locked-room cozies I love, that I realized how perfect the medium was for the mystery genre. Clues can be introduced more subtly than film or books typically allow. The work can be consumed at the reader's preferred pace while still communicating everything that needs to be communicated. Finally, jumping forward and backward in the comic to recheck clues is much easier to do than in other media.
After having this revelation, I found myself asking, "Why haven't I read more mystery comics?" The answer, as with any good story, has led to its own mystery: English-native mystery comics are rare, and nobody seems to know why. I have asked other cartoonists, comic history scholars, and publishers, and no one has been able to give me a satisfactory explanation.
To be clear, there are English-native comics that have mystery elements. Much of the time, they are classified as "Crime" comics. In most cases, however, what we get is a noir flavor with no actual puzzle. The mysteries are extremely simple and/or secondary to the character development or art of the comic. While this is fine, what I really want are cozies. Whodunits. Locked-room mysteries. The fun part for me, the chase, is getting lost.
I specified "English-native" comics because the Japanese have been making mystery comics for years. I mentioned The Kindaichi Case Files, but there are numerous other examples, including Case Closed, Detective Loki, and Ace Attorney: Investigations. Mystery is a wildly-popular genre in manga, and many of their titles have been successfully imported to the United States,which proves that there is a market for these comics. This deepens the mystery for me; if the product is proven to work, why aren't we duplicating it?
Well, to quote Gandhi, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." If I want more mystery comics, I'll just have to make them myself.
THE ORIGINS OF THE COMIC
I first came up with the idea for this story in my first year at The Center for Cartoon Studies. I had been reading a lot of old EC Comics and thought it would be interesting to draw a series of similarly-styled vignettes about anonymous letters that would reveal secrets and destroy lives. Originally, the identity of the letter writer, "L", would never be identified except by the title, which was originally Letters from the Devil until I discovered that another work already existed with this title.
Unfortunately, the vignette style wasn't working. Every idea I came up with felt too thin, and the stories felt like they came out of the 1950's in a bad way. My second year at CCS was approaching, and I was very close to putting the project on the backburner until after graduation.
Fortunately, three works changed how I thought about the story and got it back on track: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, The Count of Monte Cristo By Alexandre Dumas, and Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors by Kotaro Uchikoshi. All of a sudden, I realized that the project could work if handled as a classic whodunit with an overarching plot. All of the characters would have secrets, and the deeds of "L", now a known entity rather than a vague allusion, would no longer necessarily be the most immoral actions in the story.
I started writing The Letters of the Devil in earnest in September 2015. I graduated with my MFA in May 2016, having submitted the prologue and first chapter as my senior thesis project. After months of work, the comic was finally completed in January 2017.
FROM GRAPHIC NOVEL TO WEBCOMIC AND BACK AGAIN
When I originally created The Letters of the Devil, my intention was to either shop it around to publishers or self-publish it right away through crowdfunding. After consulting other cartoonists, however, I was convinced to build interest in the project first by launching it as a webcomic.
To be honest, I was hesitant. While I certainly love webcomics (and even draw another one called CosPain), The Letters of the Devil wasn't designed with web publication in mind. The more I thought about it, however, the more excited I was by the prospect. Imagine: a whodunit mystery being revealed a page at a time, three days a week, giving the reader plenty of time to think through the mystery and theorize, building suspense with each page turn in a way that print cannot really accomplish.
I started publishing the comic online at www.LOTD-Comic.com in February 2017. New pages have posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday ever since, and the last pages are scheduled to post in November. It is finally time for the comic to take its true form as a graphic novel.
WHY START NOW?
It may seem strange that I'm launching the Kickstarter before the webcomic version has finished posting. Don't worry, I'm not going to stop posting to try to force you to buy the book for the full ending. I'm doing this so that I can ship the books out before the winter holiday season starts. Simple as that.
WHY BUY THE BOOK WHEN WE CAN GET IT FOR FREE ONLINE?
Wow you guys, that hurts. But seriously, there are plenty of reasons to want a physical copy of this book.
To start with, this book includes a new section, The Making of The Letters of the Devil. These 18 pages will give you insight into the creation of the project, from its original conception through the production process. You will see the notes, scripts, thumbnails, and sketches that led to the final product.
Second, this is how the story was designed to be read. While reading it on a computer is fine, it was meant to be held in your hand, for specific events to happen on the page turns. It wasn't supposed to be read a single page at a time on a computer screen or phone (although a digital copy will be made available for those that do prefer it).
Next, it's worth noting that the pages on my website are lower quality than the print files. This is a necessity for web publishing, as screen resolution is generally lower than what can be achieved by print. As a result, the image quality in the book will be significantly higher than the image quality from my website. Think of all the details you may have missed, and how much easier it will be to read the script of the L letters.
I started work on this project three years ago. Seeing it come to fruition now, finally becoming the book I always wanted it to be, is an incredibly exciting experience. I hope you will join me as this dream becomes a reality.
Rock on, guys, and never stop drawing.
Risks and challenges
To be perfectly honest, this is not a particularly risky investment. I have already finished the book. I already have a printer lined up. In fact, if the Kickstarter goal isn't reached, I still intend to get this book printed, although it may take longer to raise the necessary funds.
I am asking for $1,000 because that will cover my costs while leaving a reasonable buffer for emergencies. The breakdown of costs is below:
$59.00: ISBNs for print and digital copies.
$100.00: File setup with printer
$100.00: Kickstarter and payment processing fees
$324.56: Printing costs (50 copies)
$150.00: Shipping costs
In a sense, I am using Kickstarter as a preorder system. That is why I am keeping the initial goal at such a low level, and why I am committed to keeping the risks at a minimum.
Whatever money is left after the pledge commitments are fulfilled will go towards making additional copies that I can sell directly, and only then will I be taking any payment for myself.
I have a few ideas for flex goals, as well, which will be established at a later date.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)