[Graphic Novel Review] The Chuckling Whatsit (Richard Sala, 1997) ★★★★★

The Chuckling Whatsit by Richard Sala 1997

The Chuckling Whatsit is a wonderful chaos of deadly mayhem and mysterious creatures.

The Chuckling Whatsit is a fantasy mystery horror detective Graphic Novel with absurdist humor and many colorful characters. With a non-linear structure it reads like the  scenes of a film in which every time a new piece of the puzzle seems to be solved but yet another new mystery arises. It’s full with assassins, mysterious characters, monstrous beings, weird characters, secret societies, strange creatures, femme fatales, and a big mystery that has to be solved by an all too common man. It’s a great mix of genres, characters and plot twists, that together create a wonderful entertaining, creative and original story that is hard to put away.

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Reporter Broom has just been fired, but when the paper is in need of a new man to write the horoscopes, he reluctantly agrees. But what he doesn’t know yet is that a serial killer is killing off every writer of the horoscope section. When he goes to the apartment of the former horoscope writer Cyril Root, who just had been killed, to look for clues for the next astrology column, he stumbles upon a mysterious girl and a mysterious plot and a mysterious story about an elusive artist called Jarnac and the return of the serial killer the Gull Street Ghoul. He gets mixed up in secret societies, femme fatales, murderers and more elusive creatures while he wants to find out more about this Jarnac and his artwork, the Whatsits and especially the Chuckling Whatsit. 

Why you should read it

The Chuckling Whatsit reads like a detective story. It’s a big puzzle that has to be solved and Broom is the guy to do it, at least that’s what he thinks. It’s all conspiracies and secrets, mysterious stories and murder and mayhem. 

The story jumps from one character to the next in different scenes, telling the story in a non-linear way‚ while the different point of views enhance the mysteries. It takes some time to figure out who is who and who belongs to which side, sending Broom and the readers in the wrong directions up till the end. Broom is caught up in a labyrinth of sinister intrigues, while he’s used in any which way possible. He’s the perfect antihero, caught up in affairs which he pursues for money or curiosity but he always ends up in predicaments. Which is a perfect time for a badass girl to save him like a guy in distress. 

It’s a story that starts out small but gets bigger and bigger while more characters are added to the bizarre party. It’s like a snowball effect in which Broom is dragged down that gets bigger and more complicated and harder to get out of. Everybody has its own motives and goals but nothing good can come of it. 

The artwork is in black and white with pen strikes that’s gives it a clear and fresh style. Each picture is detailed and it reads like scenes of a film. Close ups are alternated with slightly bigger scenes to always emphasize the mystery lying underneath. Most characters stay elusive for a long time, some are never unmasked, but the way they each are drawn resembles their function in the story, albeit mysterious in an absurd or scary way. The violence is rather graphic and brutal but due to the black and white, the gruesomeness is there but not in a shocking way.

The graceful style of the letters is a very nice detail that adds to the unique voice and stye of the story and the pictures. Both text and pictures are full with witty humor and mystery and builds on suggestion to push the story forward.

My favorite part

The best part is when Broom investigates the mill and finds himself almost lost in a secret cave where all kinds of horrors are to be found. Then the story turns from mystery and killers into the underlying horrors of it all. The choice of pictures, what is shown and what’s not, the dialogue and text accompanying these pictures all create an original atmosphere and truly is a worthy ending to a great story. 

I really do like to know what Septimus A. Crisp looks like, why he has to stay in a bag and who he and Mandrill exactly are. They are the most mysterious characters of the whole story and you can’t but wonder who they are and what their motives are. I’d also like to know where the Chuckling Whatsit came from and what it is. There’s a whole bigger mystery lying underneath the story and sometimes it’s like you’ve just grasped the surface of what is was all about.

That is such a great accomplishment, to write an enthralling and intriguing and super fun story but it’s just one little part of a whole bigger story, that you can imagine for yourself. Just like the Victorian ghost story writers did. It’s all up to the imagination of the reader to fill in the gaps and make it more scary or elusive than what’s already written down. In a way, this book reminds of these ghost stories but with a whole new a fresh take. 

Richard Sala and his amazing originality and creativity will be missed dearly.


Rating: ★★★★★

Thrill factor: ★★★★☆

Gruesome factor: ★★★★☆

Originality factor: ★★★★★

Entertainment factor: ★★★★★

Read more about Richard Sala:


The Chucking Whatsit is written and drawn by Richard Sala and first published by Fantagraphics Books in 1997. It consists of 182 pages. 

book cover The Chuckilinh Whatsit by Richard Sala 1997

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