Like a tasty brownie, cake, or other dessert, the ingredients and the way they are mixed make all the difference. Now substitute “influences” for ingredients, and you’ve got Nutmeg, which is a combination of great works of pop culture from teen dramas (Mean Girls) to teen “noirs” (Veronica Mars, Rian Johnson’s Brick) and others, like Breaking Bad and omnipresent Nancy Drew detective novels. Nutmeg especially leans on Breaking Bad and Nancy Drew this issue with the increased role of a pair of fast talking girl detectives named Anise and Ginger, who calls themselves the Vista Vale Vixens and know something is up with the Brownie Brawl, the annual fundraiser for the main characters’ school. However, writer James Wright and artist Jackie Crofts dress up these crime and detective tropes in a cheery outer shell with lush pastels and sweeping lines to give the story a light, breezy feel until the next to last page, which introduces a touch of chiarascuro to show readers that this is in fact a sort of crime story with protagonists who do illegal things even if they look like they belong in Giant Days or a preppier version of Lumberjanes.
Nutmeg #4 is a much more plot heavy issue than the previous installment, which transformed Saffron, the series’ antagonist and “Mean Girl” into a sympathetic figure because of her horrible home life featuring a white collar criminal father and strict, exacting mother. This issue focuses on Poppy and Cassia, our antiheroines and brownie bakers, dealing with the results of their creations becoming popular as shown in a panoramic spread from Crofts, who shows off her skill with hairstyles, clothing, and drawing unique people while also revealing how successful their product is. To use a metaphor from rave culture, they have created a perfect strain of ecstasy, and EDM festival goers are devouring it. This spread is unusual because Crofts usually favors a tight grid with occasional interludes, like binocular shaped panels as Ginger and Anise stake out the Brownie Brawl. Her art style is inviting and warm with sepia toned colors, and hair with real curls and waves to make the characters seem like real people even if they look cartoon-y.
The chilled out color palette is a great fit for Wright’s sharp, witty script that evokes Kevin Williamson on the Scream films (with the horror completely stripped out) and Rian Johnson’s Brick, but with some naturalism to go with its noirish banter. For example, Poppy and Cassia aren’t cool criminals just yet and freak out when they find out that there isn’t anywhere for them to cook their brownies discreetly. Wright and Crofts also play genre homages for laughs like when they perfectly combine the hardboiled detective stake-out and a montage of stretching athletes to show that Ginger and Anise are still teenagers beneath all their Philip Marlowe swagger. These spots of comedy keeps Nutmeg appealing and unpretentious.
Nutmeg #4 is a fun and refreshing comic because it shows that not just chain smoking, middle aged white men can be detectives and criminal masterminds. Jackie Crofts’ art is light and upbeat, and James Wright’s writing is clever in both plot and dialogue while continuing to develop the key relationship between the two outsiders turned culinary crime kingpins, Poppy and Cassia. (The spice puns will never not be funny.)