Award-winning comic creators Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin launched Panel Syndicate in 2013 as a digital-only, name-your-price publishing outlet for their near-future Internet noir The Private Eye. They've released several comics through this imprint since then — from themselves, and from other creators — that all fit under the same DRM-free, pay-what-you-want f0rmat, with horizontally-oriented pages specifically designed to be read on a computer screen or tablet.
The Panel Syndicate format was always intended to upend comic publishing, in a way. So it wasn't that surprising when they announced a new book in the wake of the temporary coronavirus pause of the entire comic book industry.
The new book, Friday, features art by Panel Syndicate founders Martin Martin and Muntsa Vicente, with a story by acclaimed comic crime writer Ed Brubaker, creator of Criminal, The Fade Out, and the Winter Soldier from Marvel Comics. Here's a brief synopsis:
Friday Fitzhugh spent her childhood solving crimes and digging up occult secrets with her best friend Lancelot Jones, the smartest boy in the world. But that was the past, now she's in college, starting a new life on her own. Except when Friday comes home for the holidays, she's immediately pulled back into Lance's orbit and finds that something very strange and dangerous is happening in their little New England town...
This is literally the Christmas vacation from Hell and neither of them may survive to see the New Year.
In interviews and his newsletter, Brubaker has described the story as "post-YA," which isn't really a genre, but makes sense — it's about that first winter home after the first semester of college, except in this case it's riffing on the child detective archetypes of Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, and the Hardy Boys.
The artwork from Martin and Vicente has an almost Edward Gorey-esque vibe, with heavy shadows on cold white page spreads that evoke an eerie New England winter. It's a far cry from their usual work together, while still giving them room to explore layouts and storytelling techniques with the same fine character acting and cartoonish sweetness that has made them such a successful comic art duo. While Brubaker is mostly known for his noir comics, he has previously tackled Lovecraftian elements in books like Fatal. Based on this first installment, Friday seems similarly poised to bring the atmosphere of cosmic horror to a classic crime story, mashing up and breaking up down archetypes of both genres.
You can get the first issue online right now for any price (yes, including free). Like most first issues, it's largely setup — but I'm already eagerly looking forward to exploring this loss-of-innocence world of child detectives and horrible cult murders. Like all Panel Syndicate publications, it's available in English and in Spanish; and this time, they're also offering it two different page layout formats, depending on whether you'd like to read it on a tablet or a computer.
Friday on Panel Syndicate [Ed Brubaker, Marcos Martin, Muntsa Vicente]