J.N. Wiedle: Helvetica

J.N. Wiedle, “Helvetica”

Way back (about 15 years ago), when personal computers were still in their popular infancy, my father bought our family an enormous monolith of a machine – a Gateway, I think – that, compared to even the most basic of its decedents today, was a jalopy. The thing took forever to boot up, forever to open a window of any kind, forever to do just about anything. Regardless, my brothers and I loved it. Though our legitimate uses for it were few beyond simple word-processing, we loved it because it managed to play (at reduced settings and a painfully slow frame rate) some of the coolest video games of the day. After getting my hands on Myst, I was hooked on adventure and puzzle games and spent an inordinate amount of time chronicling every piece of lore and the details of every mystery. I don’t remember the particulars, but along comes this game, Grim Fandango, and it absolutely blew me away.

The art style was reminiscent of Mexican “dia de los muertos” Mexican folk art, 40’s and 50’s art deco, and it was all mixed together with a film noir sensibility that appealed to me beyond any game I’d encountered until that point. It doesn’t hurt that at the time I had fallen in love with and was consumed by a leather-bound collection of Raymond Chandler’s most beloved Philip Marlowe detective novels. The story of Grim Fandango focused on a grim reaper in the land of the dead as he tried to unravel a growing mystery that was complicating his “life” as a reaper. The unique visual style, the characters, the voice acting, the story, and the music all combine in some weird alchemy to create a truly compelling, excellent game. If you can find it, I strongly recommend playing it. To say the game is “fun” is an understatement.

All of this aside, I came across J.N. Wiedle’s web comic, “Helvetica,” linked to from a post on another blog, and upon seeing it I was instantly brought back to those hours spent with Grim Fandango, trying desperately to make sense of the mystery. “Helvetica” tells the story of a newly dead soul as he tries to understand the life he lead and deals with the existential questions that understandably crop up as a result of being dead. It’s funny, beautifully illustrated, and like Grim Fandango, just a ton of fun. Check it out for an equally unique, rewarding, and spell-binding adventure in the land of the dead.

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