There are few things in this world with the capacity to bring you unabashed joy, but Cale Atkinson’s Simon and Chester Super Detectives! is one of those things. Laugh out loud on every page, Atkinson is a master of both the comics form and comedic timing. A comic has not enchanted me so much since Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Simon and Chester blends rainy-day antics with a self-assured ghost and plenty of parody in what can only be described as an adorable mystery romp. The simple rounded linework, bright colors, and ben day dot texturing make this work instantly appealing from the moment you pick up the text. The introduction of the cranky, mystery-writing, ghost, Simon, and the exasperated, adventure-seeking Chester, perfectly sets the tone for the amusing buddy-cop parody that follows.
Every aspect of the character design, setting, and visual narrative adds to the reader’s engagement with Atkinson’s storyworld. Simon and Chester’s simple design shows Atkinson’s skill and service to the story – there is not a superfluous line making up these characters. The characters’ simplistic design demonstrates Atkinson’s visual narrative mastery. Atkinson’s visual style allows him to manipulate each character’s expression to maximum comedic effect, crafting emotions that are somehow both exaggerated and precise. Through Simon and Chester’s facial expressions, Atkinson transports the reader into the unbearably keen and ever-changing emotional landscape of childhood: boredom, scandal, fury, joy, triumph, surprise, and confusion change from one moment to the next. Half the fun of the text is watching Simon and Chester’s expressions dramatically alter between panels.
The setting keenly reflects the eternal power and allure that blanket forts have for all children – young and old. Makeshift furniture, objects, and clothing – a trunk, a clock, a mousetrap, an old hat – transform into a classic film noir detective’s office and uniform through Simon and Chester’s imagination and Atkinson’s deft artistry. So too are Simon and Chester transformed through this process, from a child and his ghost friend to Sherlock Holmesian Super Detectives ready to solve even the most mystifying of mysteries – the sudden and inexplicable appearance of a pudgy pug.
The character design and story setting would not be half so successful if not for Atkinson’s command of the comics medium. Most enchanting is Atkinson’s use of first person-perspective, which adopts Simon’s or Chester’s perspective at key moments to hilarious effect. Delightful costume montages, film noir page reveals, slick movie poster panel inserts, and double page spreads that allow the reader to follow Simon and Chester around the room in search of clues. These visual techniques work together to immerse the reader in Simon and Chester’s endearing and imaginative world. Just when you think that the story could not possibly surprise you with another zig, Atkinson’s storytelling zags once more, bringing the reader perpetual delight until the very last page.
At a time when each day feels like an endless parade of couped-up rainy days, Atkinson, with the help of Simon and Chester, brings the reader a surge of unexpected joy. Atkinson’s greatest talent may lie in transforming the reader’s perspective from the mundane into the magical.