David Simon’s Homicide, first published in 1991, is a classic of true crime and police reporting. It was adapted for television by Simon and elements from it also appear in his later series The Wire. As a fan of Simon’s television work, I had very high expectations for this graphic adaptation from Squarzoni. In some ways, it was exactly what I hoped. In others, it fell short.
The beginning of this adaptation includes a content warning that explains that, “we have remained faithful to the original narration and dialogue. At times the words in this book are offensive, but they paint an accurate portrait of life inside Baltimore’s homicide unit in the late 1980s.” More pointedly: this book contains racial slurs, transphobia, sexual violence, and murder. None of that is surprising considering the topic, but it’s worth pointing out to both librarians and readers.
In 1988, Simon was given access to the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide unit for a year of observations and interviews. During this time, killings were common, and that day to day work forms the most interesting parts of this comic. When the focus is on departmental procedures, intense workload, and the politics of policing, this book is enthralling. Amidst that, three detectives emerge as protagonists of a sort and their most heinous cases become the main plotline.
One of those plot threads is the rape and murder of an eleven-year-old, which causes enough outrage in the department and the city at large to spur a large manhunt. This, too, is engrossing. Unfortunately, this volume ends at the climax of the search, leaving that plot hanging for the sequel. I understand the use of cliffhangers to drive readership, but I wish that was not the case here. There is plenty left to adapt for future volumes, so I wish Squarzoni had resolved one of the major cases here.
The art is serviceable but unexciting. People are drawn realistically with a reasonable amount of detail, as are backgrounds when they are used. The coloring is a standout; most of the book is black and white with shades of gray, but red appears frequently to draw attention to the bloody aftermath of a crime scene. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot that makes the characters distinct visually and I had a hard time keeping straight who is who, which makes it difficult to keep track of the various cases.
Ultimately, this is a serviceable adaptation and a welcome addition to true crime graphic novels. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of something like From Hell, but it does have the benefit of being entirely true with no fictional elements to bolster the narrative. It reminded me of Torso in a lot of ways and should have a place in larger public library collections. However, it’s not a necessary purchase in the way the original book was. The best thing about Homicide is that it made me want to rewatch The Wire, but that’s not a bad thing.
Homicide: The Graphic Novel, Part One
By David Simon, Philippe Squarzoni
Art by Philippe Squarzoni
Macmillan First Second, 2023
Related media: Book to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: French