Friday, August 30, 2013

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Some books take years to develop. This one began as a self-published mini-comic, then was published in France, then moved to a web-comic format, and is now available in print form. After all of the time and translations, I was very pleased to find that the story is well developed, as are the characters. Delilah is an adventurer and troublemaker who has great skill as a fighter and tactician as well great intelligence and a huge sense of adventure. In the course of her travels Erdemoglu Selim, the titular lieutenant, mistakenly falls in with her after his superiors falsely assume he is in league with the wily and roguish Delilah. It is either be executed or run, and he runs away with her.

Reluctantly cast together, the duo escape many scrapes and experience various adventures and misadventures. This page captures the flavor of their exploits:

Delilah is the hyper-capable one, but eventually Selim earns his keep as an adventurer and the maker of the best cup of tea in the Mediterranean. The dynamic between these travel companions is refreshing, more mutual respect that forced romance, and the art is colorful, vibrant, and energized. The action sequences are well rendered as are more quiet moments. Not out-shown by the art, the story is at once surprising, fun, and full of fantastical touches. For a debut, this work shows much artistic maturity and craft.

The book's creator Tony Cliff is an artist, animator, and illustrator who shares much of his works in progress on his blog. He has done much commercial work and has been nominated for Eisner, Shuster, and Harvey Awards for anthologized work. He also has another, shorter Delilah Dirk book available here. Cliff speaks much more about his work in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read for this book deem it praiseworthy. Kirkus Reviews described it as "fast-paced and unabashed fun" in their starred review. Cory Doctorow called it "a marvelous and exceptionally lovely graphic novel that ranges far and wide, buckling titanic quantities of swash as it goes." Stephanie Cooke declared it "something that almost anyone can enjoy."

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is published by First Second. The first two chapters and more are available at the book's official page. Although much of this book is available online, I think this book is beautifully presented and is well worth owning.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

ADDENDUM 9/3/2013: A sequel has just been announced:

ADDENDUM 9/12/2013: Check out this interview with Tony Cliff:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

How to Fake a Moon Landing: The Truth Behind Science Denial

How to Fake a Moon Landing is a collection of essays about various topics having to do with scientific inquiry. It looks at issues of translating research into popular media and how conceptions and misconceptions are created. Lots of juicy topics are tackled, including climate change, the Apollo 11 moon landing, chiropractic, the MMR vaccine, fracking, and homeopathic cures. These essays are passionately argued, and well structured individually. The takedown of a certain Dr. Wakefield in regards to faulty research about connections between the MMR vaccine and autism is particularly thorough and eye-opening, but the rest are similarly compelling and well argued.

Still, after enjoying the author's last offering, Psychiatric Tales,so much, I felt let down by this book's lack of a framing sequence or explicit connections between essays save for two introductions. The former book was much more personal, and although this one is still well researched and presented, it smacks more of infotainment than it does of an aesthetic whole. As well argued as the essays are, they are separate entities that can be read entirely on their own. I would suggest taking one's time with this book and tackling each chapter over time, only because the topics vary and the essays do not hang together so well in a narrative sense. Still, the individual pieces are great examples of science reporting.

Author/illustrator Darryl Cunningham specializes in nonfiction comics, tackling diverse topics in his blog Darryl Cunningham Investigates. He primarily publishes online, but also has the aforementioned collection of his experiences as a health care assistant in a psychiatric facility. He speaks more about his work on this book in this interview with John Hogan as well as this one with Robot 6.

Cunningham's art is sturdy and straight-forward. I enjoyed his use of abstract stylized cartoons with occasional realistic, photographic drawings interspersed in the panels. His art is not flashy, but it does convey information and arguments in clear fashion. Here are a couple of different pages from the book that are characteristic of his style:

From the moon landing section.
From the MMR vaccine section.

Although it is certainly written from a particular point of view, the book is not overtly didactic in its intentions, pushing readers more to think for themselves than to accept simple accounts of events or situations. In these interests, Cunningham includes many sources for his essays in the back matter so readers can verify what he said or go off and do their own fact checking.

Reviews I have read of the book online range from positive to lukewarm. Robert Greenberger wrote, "Cunningham does a remarkable job with difficult material and for high school students, just opening their eyes to the world around them, this is a terrific primer." The reviewer at Geeks of Doom called it "fun and informative without being preachy." Nick Smith was slightly less enthusiastic, stating, "The artwork is cartoony, which may distract some readers from the serious nature of the information presented," but added,  "the book is readable by teens, if they’re interested in science."

How to Fake a Moon Landing is published by Abrams ComicArts. They offer a teaching guide and more here. Here is a short excerpt at Boing Boing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Ted is a really smart guy who has lots going for him but also some struggles. He is married and has a family as well as a great academic job at a physics think-tank, but he has not had a strong new idea in years. He fears that he will be surpassed by the young turks at work and also that he will never meet the potential he showed as a youngster, when he easily skipped grades, and a young man, when he wrote exciting and interesting papers full of fresh ideas. Additionally, he has to care for an increasingly ornery and scatter-brained father-in-law who constantly berates him. And he receives an additional scare when his wife discovers a mass in her body.

Add to all of this the revelation that his father-in-law knew Albert Einstein and swore an oath to protect a secret the physicist told him. As he deals with adversities, Ted obsesses over this secret, thinking it holds the key to unlocking secrets of the universe that would help him with his job and also  safeguard his family.

Clearly, there is much going on in this book, and what really makes it all work as a cohesive tale full of humanity, impact, and wonder is the expert storytelling of the writer and artist. Collaborators Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen have worked previously on the series House of Secrets and most notably on the graphic novel It's a Bird..., for which Kristiansen won a 2005 Eisner Award for Best Comics Painter. They have obviously built a strong working relation over the years, evident in the flow and deceptive simplicity of the narrative in terms of plot and visuals.

Seagle is a prolific comics writer who created the Vertigo series American Virgin as well as wrote a long run of Sandman Mystery Theater. He is also a member of Man of Action, a collective of creators who work on various media projects including the television shows Ben 10 and Avengers Assemble. Seagle speaks about his works in this extensive interview. Both creators speak of their work on Genius in this interview.

The way that the art and words propel the story displays a high level of craftsmanship. Rendered with fine lines and a muted color palette, the ethereal and atmospheric images show that Ted is haunted by many things: his fears, his past, the demands of being a father and husband, the ghost of Albert Einstein, and the attitude of his father-in-law.

This is a book about physics and abstract thought, but it also is very human. The interplay between big ideas and mundane details of life make for some interesting philosophical and existential moments. In the end, it is those moments that are the most powerful parts of the book, when Seagle and Kristiansen use metaphor masterfully to highlight multiple facets of the human condition. The plot also somewhat resembles a train of thought, with the reader being privy to Ted's problem solving processes and seeing where his conclusions originate.

Reviews I have read have been mostly positive. Sonia Harris called it "simply and elegantly beautiful." Melissa Grey wrote, "Though the book has a somewhat saccharine finale, overall, it's a heartfelt, sincere exploration of the beauty that there is to be found even in our darkest moments." Publishers Weekly focused on the sequential art aspects, noting, "Most remarkably, Seagle and Kristiansen allow the connection of words and pictures to mirror the reader’s own comprehension of Ted’s journey to awareness."

A preview and more are available here from First Second.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fatale, Volumes 1: Death Chases Me

I read this book because I am a HUGE fan of Brubaker and Phillips' other series, Sleeper, Incognito, and Criminal. I like me some noir and also comics, and here I get those two great tastes together, along with a twist of something else...

Death Chases Me has many great ingredients that add up to a gripping noir thriller. A mysterious and beautiful woman. A shady cop. A reporter who has stuck his nose in the wrong place. A crime boss. A cult. Chases and gunfights through the sewers of San Francisco. Ritualistic, sacrificial murders. An unpublished, tell-all manuscript. And demons. That last feature adds an element of Lovecraftian horror where the evil lurks not only in the hearts of men but also oozes from an infernal pit.

The story mostly involves two intertwined timelines, from the 1930s and the 1950s, and we see how past events dictate those in the future as well as how many different happenings are cyclical up to the present day. Like most noir thrillers, it is difficult to recognize anyone as purely good or trustworthy in these situations, and everyone seems corruptible despite their best intentions. Also, there are definitely a few characters who simply fall into the evil and malevolent categories.

Here is a preview page that I think captures the flavor of the book (originally found here):

This first book mostly sets the scene for what is an ongoing series from Image Comics, and I think it does an excellent job giving out just enough information and shocks to drive a compelling and effective plot while leaving more than enough mystery to keep the reader in suspense and wanting to come back for more. This is another excellent book from an excellent comics-making tandem.

This book's creators are the veteran team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Brubaker is probably best known for a long run on Captain America, and Phillips has drawn all kinds of comics, most notably Marvel Zombies.  They continue to co-produce excellent and enjoyable comics. They are both Eisner Award winning creators and frequent collaborators on series such as Criminal, Sleeper, and Incognito. Both creators talk about this series and their collaborative work as a whole in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book and series have been very positive. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it an "addictive page-turner." Danny McCaslin praised the book, "Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have delivered a truly great series in the form of a hard-boiled detective story that touches on the very edges of a supernatural mystery taking place right beneath our noses." The review from Crime Fiction Lover stated, "This collection is brilliantly done, but will leave you hungry for more."

Fatale is published by Image Comics. There is a brief preview from Amazon here. Because of some sex, violence, and language, I would recommend this book for more mature readers.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Please consider funding Generation One: Children of Mars

Occasionally I post about notable graphic novel projects that are seeking funding. This sci-fi book chronicles the future settling of Mars, and it will be chock full of facts and information about the Red Planet as well as tell a good story. I have pledged to support this book, and I hope you do, too.

Check out the link here to learn more. Or just click on the video below.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Like We Can Fix It!, this book is also combines elements of fiction and autobiography. It stars Joe Ollmann, an art director and cartoonist who has published two prior books, Chewing on Tinfoil and This Will All End in Tears. He has also done a short series of autobiographical comics posted at The Comics Journal. He has a blog where he posts various drawings and news, and he also has a site for his new book Science Fiction. He speaks extensively about Mid-Life and his career in these interviews, one with the Comics Reporter, the other at Robot 6.

The realistic bits in this book are that Joe has two adult-age daughters and a young son from a second marriage to a younger woman. Also, he worked as an art director for a magazine for a number of years. The rest of the bits are fictional flights of fancy or grotesque caricature. Consider how the author appears in a photo on the book jacket

compared to how he depicts himself in the book's only splash page illustration
Hey ladies!
The fictional version of younger Joe is caustic, full of vinegar

And age has mellowed him some

But still, he finds himself missing something in his life. That something seems to appear in the form of Sherry Smalls, a singer/children's performer who acts as the book's second narrator.

Sherry has her own set of problems. They include:
a troubled ex-boyfriend/bandmate who threatens her record deal,
a ticking biological clock,
and some boundary issues, particularly when it comes to older men.
When Joe hears Sherry's music on a promo CD, he is enchanted and becomes obsessed with her, looking up her information and past works. Then an opportunity to meet her arises and he seizes it, and of course sparks fly between these two troubled souls. Joe misrepresents himself to Sherry, and he is wracked with guilt on the front end of his "will he"/"won't he" dilemma

I found Mid-Life to be full of great observational humor, well defined characters and situations, and also grotesquely wonderful and visceral art. Ollmann's cartooning captures very real human thoughts and emotions, and even when things veer close to stereotypes and stock scenes they retain their own unique qualities. I very much enjoyed seeing the struggles and experiences of these characters, because the narratives and characterizations were so compellingly presented.

Reviews I have read of this book have been very positive. J. Caleb Mozzocco called it a "great" graphic novel, "deserving of that often meaningless and misapplied term." The Comic Journal's Tom De Haven wrote that "Ollmann has made a huge leap forward as a stylist and as a storyteller," and added that "Mid-Life is a major and wonderful piece of work." Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and concluded, "Readers of any age who pick up this gem will find it impossible to put down."

Mid-Life is published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they provide a preview here

Monday, August 5, 2013

We Can Fix It!: A Time Travel Memoir

Imagine you had the means to go back and visit yourself in time. Imagine the troubles you could save yourself and the pitfalls you could avoid. That is the premise of this book, a fantastical and wonderfully illustrated "time travel memoir." Jess Fink is going to make her life better by giving advice and practice to her younger selves. One of the first things she does is teach her teenage self to kiss, so that she will have a more enjoyable sex life, by making out with herself (that's not wrong, is it?). Sometimes she reaches out at pivotal moments in her young adulthood and tries to push herself toward other choices.

Other times she visits herself as a child, trying to advise herself not to do certain things.

What she finds is that her past selves are just as willful then as she is now.
Also, her future self is a bit obsessively determined:

And that drive frequently prevents her from having a very helpful bedside manner:

In the end Future Jess ends up getting as much counsel from her past selves as she dishes out.

Also, she learns that her memories sometimes are inaccurate and jaded.

In all, I thought that this book was fun and funny while also having some moving moments of pathos and empathy. There are a couple genuinely dark and painful episodes Jess works through (not pictured here), but the art combined with the breezy flow of the story keep things relatively light and humorous. Fink's artwork is deceptively simple looking, but it packs a very expressive series of punches. I also found her characters to be quite relatable and sympathetic.

This is Jess Fink's second book. Her works often combine elements of humor, sexuality, and beautiful art. Her first book, Chester 5000 (definitely NSFW), is very adult, an elegantly illustrated piece of smut about an occupied Victorian era inventor, his energetic wife, and the robot companion he makes for her. She speaks more about her work on We Can Fix It! in this interview.

Reviews I have read about this book have been pretty positive, though with some reservations. Paste Magazine's Hillary Brown wrote that "the book has plenty of nice moments, " but she also was disappointed by the sketchy aspect of the art, adding, "It just seems like, given more time, it could have been something more than it is." The reviewer at Yet Another Comics Blog called this book "solid" but added that he was put off a little because he did not feel the narrative was universal enough, commenting, "The difficulty I had is that it felt less like going on a journey with Jess Fink and more observing Jess Fink." Publishers Weekly concluded that this "quickly paced book practically demands to be read again upon completion in order to spot all the hidden details" and added that there were "plenty of laugh-out-loud moments."

We Can Fix It! is available from the fine folks at Top Shelf. They offer a preview and much more here

Panels from We Can Fix It!
Good advice from the future!