Deconstructing the medium of the comic book is one thing, but to do so with such fierce inventiveness as Paolo Bacilieri‘s FUN is enough to make you fall in love with the medium all over again. Not content so simply use a quirky crime drama to tell the history of the crossword puzzle, Bacilieri transforms his story into a literal crossword, interspersing the story of novelist Pippo Quester, fan Zeno Porno and enigmatic would-be murderer Mafalda with numerous miniature tales that intertwine with our lead characters, both in plot and structure.
It’s not as of Bacilieri doesn’t give himself enough to work with in terms of Pippo, Zeno and Mafalda anyway. These three combine into a crossword of emotional entanglement themselves. Just like a crossword, their paths and pasts crossover, as both they and Bacilieri drip-feed each other and us clues as to how they connect together into a cohesive whole. This secluded, central cast ensures that FUN doesn’t run the risk of getting lost in its own structural and thematic ambitions, even when the one-off stories pop up throughout the comic do start to become a chore to endure. There’s little wasted potential in FUN, but the briefer tales embedded within take more work to digest than Pippo, Zeno and Mafalda’s tale.
Where then, I hear you ask, is the actual history of the crossword that makes up the crux of this comic? Like many things in this book it’s embedded within. Pippo’s quest to catalogue the crossworld puzzle as a cultural landmark take on a meta-fictional quality throughout FUN. Bacilieri brings Pippo’s book-writing to life in a charming, robust manner. The crossword’s history itself is just one of the players here, but thanks to it’s muscular execution, you aren’t left feeling underwhelmed by the puzzle’s story.
Bacilieri’s visuals are a sight to behold. Illustrated mostly in black-and-white but scatterings of red, blue and green filters for the briefer strips, Bacilieri’s artwork flows like you might expect a crossword to. Everything from the structure of the comic’s panels to how speech bubbles float from the character’s mouth is made to look like a traditional crossword. The sheer inventiveness of FUN is worth the price alone, but what might be the idea behind all of this visual splendour, this fusion of wildly ambitious story-telling embedded within the compact, intimate idea that forms the basis of the crossword?
For those expecting an eloquent, expert history on the puzzle, you may come away from FUN feeling short-changed. Not that the history told within these pages itself isn’t fascinating stuff, but for the simple reason that it’s not the main draw of the story. As mentioned, it shares the spotlight with Pippo, Zeno and Malafada’s intertwined story of fannish adoration and acts of vengefulness.
Much like how a crossword offers you clues to solve the puzzle, the clue to this lies in the crossword’s story itself that FUN tells. Pippo appears keen to illuminate how the crossword infects how everyday lives, it’s there almost without us noticing. The fact that FUN‘s multiple strands of story are positioned as though they’re a crossword itself brings this idea to life as much as Bacilieri brings Pippo’s own musing to FUN‘s pages. You may find biographies that reveal the crossword’s history in more detail than FUN, but I doubt you’ll find one as witty, heartfelt and soulful than Bacilieri’s efforts here.
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