Black Dahlia: A Crime Graphic Novel by James Ellroy, David Fincher, Matz and Miles Hyman

Black Dahlia cover

Take a close look: “The Black Dahlia ™.” Does that mean the publisher is trying to trademark “The Black Dahlia?”  Good luck with that.


I picked up a copy of the new graphic novel version of James Ellroy’s “The Black Dahlia,” and although I didn’t expect to like it, I ended up disliking it for entirely different reasons. Several pages had been posted online and it at least looked visually interesting, so I forced myself to read it. And this turned out to be quite a chore.

The book is credited to Ellroy, adapted by David Fincher – who was rumored for years to be directing a Black Dahlia movie — and Matz, and illustrated by Miles Hyman, with lettering by Deron Bennett. It is published by Archaia and lists for $29.99.

Presumably, most people are familiar with the outlines of Ellroy’s 1987 novel so I don’t need to repeat them here. But compressing and compacting the plot to the spare dimensions of a graphic novel exposes many weaknesses that aren’t apparent in the original book. (I will leave it to someone else to perform a side-by-side analysis of the book and the graphic novel).


For example:

Black Dahlia Graphic Novel

Manslaughter did not carry the death penalty.  This is ridiculous.

(Note: You can expect lots of non-PC language).


Black Dahlia Graphic Novel
A key plot point is Proposition B, which would be a city bond measure put before city voters to raise money for the LAPD. Which is all well and good except the plot has it being supported by Ellis Loew, who is the Los Angeles COUNTY district attorney and has no sway over the city budget. City and county government are conflated all the way through the book and I won’t get into it here except to say that the district attorney did not have the authority over the LAPD as presented here.

Black Dahlia Graphic Novel
As for accuracy, we have the medical examiner smoking a cigar while displaying a murder victim. Lovely.

Black Dahlia Graphic Novel
And apparently – at least in the world of this graphic novel – bodies retain their skin tone after death even when they have been drained of blood. Even after several days – and no, I won’t be posting those frames. And it’s bizarre that mutilations in one scene have healed themselves pages later.

One reason I was curious about the book was because I wondered whether there would be any clown paintings, like the ones in the ghastly Brian De Palma movie:


Alas, no clown paintings this time.

But even without the clown paintings, some of the artwork by Miles Hyman is stiff and clunky:

Like this:

Black Dahlia Graphic Novel
And this:

Black Dahlia Graphic Novel
Apparently this is what they mean by “the long arm of the law.”

'Black Dahlia' Graphic Novel
I mean, what is this supposed to be?

image Black Dahlia Graphic Novel

And then we have the cartoonish hands on Kay Lake. I mean really?

And the characters tend to look the same:

Black Dahlia Graphic Novel.
Seriously. Can you tell whether this woman is Kay Lake or Madeline Sprague?

And are they both the offspring of the noseless Lord Voldemort?

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. One final complaint:

Black Dahlia Graphic Novel

Perhaps you’re thinking that I don’t like an airliner buzzing City Hall. And while that is a problem, those who know Los Angeles history will have a larger grievance:
What’s wrong with the Hall of Records and the Hall of Justice?

City Hall 1938

Here’s how downtown actually looked, courtesy of the DWP photo collection.

Black Dahlia Graphic Novel City_Hall_1938_flop

The photo has been flopped. Just like the whole book.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, Art & Artists, Black Dahlia, Books and Authors, Cold Cases, LAPD and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Black Dahlia: A Crime Graphic Novel by James Ellroy, David Fincher, Matz and Miles Hyman

  1. Earl Boebert says:

    Those look like storyboards for a video game. Would explain the (™). Blech.


  2. I can almost assure you that Ellroy and Fincher had no input into this book; “Matz” most likely based his script on whatever script existed from the Fincher film project. That’s the genesis of the alleged “Kevin Smith” GREEN HORNET and SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN comics, as well as the adaptation of Alan Moore’s never-filmed script for FASHION BEAST, originally commissioned by Malcolm McLaren in the late 1980s.


    • lmharnisch says:

      Thanks for your insight. That would make sense. I’m really surprised and disappointed that the artwork wasn’t better. I don’t follow the graphic novel world very closely, but I do follow lots of artists on Instagram and there are some extremely talented folks out there who would have done a far better job.


      • There are many remarkable true-crime graphic novels done by actual committed artists working for themselves; this thing is just a lame attempt to leverage a known property. You might consider checking out the works of Rick Geary, particularly Famous Players: The Mysterious Death of William Desmond Taylor, for a better-crafted, more idiosyncratic approach.


      • lmharnisch says:

        Thanks. I’m a big fan of Jared Muralt. I’m not sure if he has a huge following but he is an incredible draftsman.


    • Yes, typically graphic novel adaptations of prose novels have little to no input from the authors of the source material (e.g. Stephen King’s forays into comics). The exception to this is the late Harlan Ellison, who also did a lot of original comics work, but worked closely with artists to adapt many of his stories in several graphic novels, anthologies and in his own comics series.
      I recently read this Ellroy adaptation and was not impressed. I like a lot of Ellroy’s work, but as with the dreadful film adaptation, the key is to see them as different works respective to different mediums.
      It did incentivize me to look into the Rick Geary graphic novels. I’m snatching up his Black Dahlia book as soon as I find a copy. The cover looks dreadful and Elizabeth Short looks like Cher on it, but I’ve seen preview pages and really like his clean black-and-white style inside.
      Going down that rabbit hole makes me want to track down the “Torso” graphic novel from a few years ago about the Cleveland killings. Too many reads to get to!


  3. Anne Papineau says:

    Underwhelming for sure.


  4. Earl Boebert says:

    Well, I did a little more looking (not, however, to the extent of dropping 30 bucks on this thing) and Archaia has been in business since 2002 and surely know that you can’t copyright a short book title, so for some reason they decided to trademark it. Now trademarks are not automatic the way copyrights are, you have to justify your trademark to the gummint as the symbol of a brand. This means that it’s very rare that one gets a trademark for a single book. And so, my dear Watsons, it is likely that there was something submitted to the trademark office to show the book was part of a “franchise,” as the current crop of Hollywood execs like to call these things. What else could the “franchise” include? Action figures? (Dear Lord, please, no)

    I still think some other game is afoot (as it were), a surmise reinforced by the uniform, full-frame, eye level POV of the drawings that move the “story” forward. I’d love to have a peek at their trademark application.


  5. Earl Boebert says:

    So they asserted a trademark without actually having it? I think that’s a no-no.


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