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!