Illustrated by Noel Tuazon
(disclaimer: I wrote a mini review of this book in my last post about WonderCon. However, at the time I hadn’t finished reading the book and this review will be much more complete.)
Way back before comics were influencing movies and television, before there were comic shops and most comics were inserts in local newspapers, before the medium of sequential art had ever proven its worth and was mostly thought of as kids stuff, Will Eisner believed they were special. If you don’t know who Eisner is you should do a little homework on and read some of his stuff, but for now you’d mostly know him as the creator of The Spirit. A little known fact about Will Eisner is that he was essentially the creator of what has been deemed the Graphic Novel. At the time comics were only coming out in magazine format but Eisner started writing them as if they were literature and putting them out as hardcover books. Eisner was often known to speak up about the value of comic art, claiming the medium was just as important as any novel, painting or movie. He approached the subject as literature and believed that one day we’d see copies of A Contract With God on the shelf next to Tom Sawyer and Fagin the Jew next to Oliver Twist.
You should know that Eisner has nothing to do with Tumor. I bring him up to point out that while a few creators over the years have picked up the banner Eisner left when he passed away for the most part the comic industry just hasn’t taken itself seriously. Every year Marvel comics sells 70% of all comics sold in the US. DC comics comes in second and you have to look pretty far down the list before you find anything that holds up to Eisner’s expectations of the medium. For the most part the medium of comic books is treated similarly to the medium of television. The majority of books out there aim no higher than to simply entertain. Now don’t get me wrong. If you head over to my local shop, Iguana Comics, and look in my box you’ll see plenty of books aimed primarily at entertainment (I’m really enjoying the current Hulk run at the moment with Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman). I understand that there are guys out there who love superhero books and I respect this appreciation for the genre that got me hooked on comics. Yet, like Eisner I want to believe comics can be more.
It’s my desire to see the medium of comics transcend itself that makes Tumor so special. I honestly think Tumor is the kind of book Eisner would like. It’s obvious upon reading it that Fialkov and Tuazon were aiming much higher than the realm of entertainment for their second graphic novel and I can firmly say they hit the mark.
Tumor is the story of an aged out, down on his luck private dick and follows the events of Frank’s last case. Even if this were a straight forward private eye book it would be worth reading but there’s more to it than that. Frank is dyeing from a tumor in his brain. The tumor affects frank in many ways which prove to be a detriment to his case like dizziness, disorientation, and blackouts. Yet the symptom which causes him the most trouble is that his grasp on time is slipping. The tumor causes him to slip between timelines so one minute he’s in the present and the next he’s in a diner twenty years ago. This would be frustrating enough on it’s own but the case he’s working on, looking for the missing daughter of a local mob boss, has surprising parallels with the death of his wife years ago. As Frank slips back and forth between the case he’s working on and the greatest tragedy of his life he has a harder and harder time telling the difference between the two events.
The time shift angle seems like it would be confusing as a reader, but Fialcov is a master story teller. At no point in the book does the reader ever feel confused about what’s going on. If expert writing weren’t enough Tuazon marks each time shift with a change in visual style, giving the reader further que that something is off.
Tumor is an emotional book. There are points which made me cringe at the guilt and shame Frank has been carrying around. While the action of the story was entertaining the creators never settled for that being enough. Each scene feels like a pivotal piece of emotional content and like any good piece of literature each scene feels important to the content of the story and to the makeup of Frank himself. Rarely has a book affected me like this one. When I finished it I couldn’t just go on to the next thing, I had to sit and think about it.
This is not an edge of your seat thriller. You won’t find a twist heavy plot with big reveals and a surprise ending. But while reading the story you may realize that other writers, especially in this crime genre, rely on these devices because they don’t have the skill to portray a moving and powerful story like this one.
An interesting fact is that Tumor was the first comic sold on the Amazon Kindle. On the website you can even download a digital preview to check out before you buy it. However, even for Kindle users I recommend buying the hardcover. The book has one of the most original covers I’ve seen in a while, the paper has a great texture and the pages have that cool uneven cut which makes books look antique and expensive. It’s even a nice size, not oversized like most trades, and looks great on a bookshelf. But the reasons for buying the hardcover have little to do with the aesthetics. The book is packed with special features. In the comic an event from Frank’s past is mentioned but not fully explained, in the back of the book is a short story fully laying out this event. There are a character sketches, an interview from Aint it Cool News, an interesting article talking about the ways Los Angelas has changed over the years, and an afterword by the author that is informative and entertaining. The book contains a special gem for comic creators… the original pitch which got the comic published. In short, it’s obvious that the creative team really cared about this project from start to finish, and like a DVD with tons of extras it feels like you’re getting your monies worth. The final reason I’ll recommend you buy the hardcover is the price: 225 pages and amazing special features in a visually pleasing hardcover for only $14.95!
And now the bad news. The only shortcoming I found with this book is the art. Tuazon is a talented artist who uses a black and white pen and ink style and alternates in a bit of ink wash for the time flashbacks. I’m a fan of this style in general but this book left me wanting a little more. Tuazon gets a little messy in parts and spare in others. As an artist I can say I’m not crazy about all the choices Tuazon made while illustrating this book. But I got over it. The art isn’t amazing but it’s still good and by the end of the book I fully understood why Tuazon was picked as the artist for this book. For everything I didn’t like there were a ton of other things I did like so it evened out.
You should be reading Tumor. It’s emotional poignant, well paced and beautifully packaged. It’s a book that raises the bar on what comic books can be. So head to your local comic and order your copy today, you won’t be disappointed.