Category Archives: Biology

Graphic Novel Review: PHILIP K. DICK: A COMICS BIOGRAPHY

…as the walls start to cave in.

To the tell the story of a writer and the writing process is quite a unique challenge. Sure, you want to include some scenes of the writer  in the act of writing but then what do you do next? This new graphic novel, Philip K. Dick: A Comics Biography, published by NBM, solves the problem very nicely. French writer Laurent Queyssi and Italian artist Mauro Marchesi bring to life a very unusual person, famous writer or not. The appeal of this book comes from how both writer and artist tease out for the reader a portrait of very delicate, chaotic, and brilliant individual. Let the details fall into place as events unfold. See how one person can be so blind to his own destiny while bursting with intelligence and creative output. After a while, you don’t care what he’s famous for. You’re just rooting for him to survive another night as the walls start to cave in all around him.

It’s perhaps helpful for me to mention that I’m putting together a book that parallels this book on Philip K. Dick in very interesting ways. My book is about another science fiction writer, George Clayton Johnson, who was born in 1929, roughly the same year as Dick but who enjoyed a happy and long life. Dick’s life was relatively short and not without its tragedy. Johnson and Dick are very different writers but they both were part of a certain time and sensibility. Even though Dick was somewhat of a recluse, he did enjoy connecting with people on occasion. Like Johnson, he got to know some of his heroes and colleagues in science fiction, like Harlan Ellison and A.E.van Vogt. Both Johnson and Dick had high ambitions. While Johnson generally flourished among people, Dick would much rather recede into the background. Both dared to be as nonconformist as possible. Dick was darker, stranger, and willing to open more doors into the unknown.

An honest assessment, that’s what we crave from a biography. NBM is certainly amassing quite an impressive collection of them. The trickiest to get right, and probably the most satisfying, is the exploration of a creative person and the creative process. That classic writer’s block is on full view on more than one occasion in this book as is the overall struggle in a person’s life. We get a very clear and precise picture that manages to keep to a steady chronological order with necessary temporal detours. This is Philip K. Dick under the microscope. Backed my thoughtful planning, Queyssi provides a script that seems to effortlessly bring into play a myriad of carefully researched dates, places, and times. When you think of it, Dick was essentially an enigma. You didn’t necessary go see Blade Runner with a clear picture of the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Mauro Marchesi’s artwork is as clean and crisp as Queyssi’s well-chosen words. Marchesi solves another challenge: finding just the right ways to evoke the fantastical in a story about a writer writing weird and strange content. You don’t just want to play with scale and have a scene with Dick reduced to the size of an insect just because you can! But that sort of thing is irresistible so you make the most of it and, when the time is right, Marchesi pulls out all the stops. He has some beautiful wordless sequences that definitely balance out a narrative that, at times, needs to rely more on text. One that really packs in just the right dose of mystery and ambiguity has Dick seated at a park bench trading in a gem for a book with a total stranger. Like spies passing through the night, they discretely make the switch, one finely polished gem for a book that points towards another book in Dick’s future.

For fans of Philip K. Dick, as well as new readers, this will prove to be an engaging read. As I say, after a while, you’re not thinking of Dick as just a famous writer. No, he’s got some pretty compelling ordinary problems of his own along with the extraordinary ones! One of the most fascinating aspects, however, does have to do with being a famous writer. Time and again you see Dick fighting against being known as a science fiction writer. Back then in what was its golden age, science fiction was snubbed as only being “genre.” You would think someone as smart as Dick could have seen through the snobbery of the literary establishment. But, no, even Philip K. Dick wasted precious time and energy desperately trying to fit in!

Philip K. Dick: A Comics Biography is a 144-page full color hardcover. For more details, visit NBM Publishing right here.

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Filed under Biology, Comics, George Clayton Johnson, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Harlan Ellison, NBM, NBM Publishing, Philip K. Dick, Sci-Fi, science fiction

Review: BIOWARS #1 and #2

Biowars-comic-book-2013

There are so many superhero comics out there but readers are always open to a new wrinkle. How about a comic that encompasses a world made up of trillions, a hundred times more populated than Earth? That is a world that we all live in now, inside our own bodies, made up of trillions of cells. Welcome to BIOWARS.

Biowars-comic-The-Battle-Rages-Within

This is definitely something new within the superhero genre. What will first interest readers is how this comic engages with real biology. With a majority of superhero comics heavily tied to either pulp fiction or mythology, BIOWARS, published by Gabriel Creations, confidently goes deep inside a vast alien world with many possibilities. Creator Gabriel Shaoolian envisioned a comic that dove into a whole new terrain. With a story that literally takes place inside and outside, there is great potential here.

Biowars-comics

The story begins with a sounding of alarms in the first issue, aptly entitled, “Infection.” We see the emerging war take shape. Written by Mark Powers (Marvel Comics, Devil’s Due), we get a nice dose of action, and even humor. Microphage armies and B-Cell forces, given human-like form for the sake of more vivid storytelling, are deployed to subdue the enemy invader. The artwork (Lucius Cross, Joana LaFuente, and Gonçalo Lopes) brings it all to life with impressive results. The next time you get a cold, you can picture a war like this one raging through your bronchial passages.

But there’s far more going on. Whatever this virus or bacteria is, it is unlike anything the immune system A-teams have ever encountered. And things aren’t any less tense in the great unknown world outside. Out there, on the streets of New York’s Chinatown, there’s a young man, Alex Hawking, running for his life. Outside, danger looms even closer as Alex is being chased by a killer. The killer is quite familiar with what’s wrong with Alex from the inside.

The intrigue continues as more details are revealed in the second issue, entitled, “Revelations.” With two issues in, a suspenseful story has unfolded that carries the weight of a first-rate superhero tale. We know that Alex is in a lot of danger. And we have some clues as to what he might do next. Good use is made of superhero tropes. There’s Janice Lee, the reporter who gets too close to her story and is now wrapped up with Alex’s fate. There’s Alex’s classic conflict with his father, Marcus. And there are two villains: a mad scientist, Ernst Kelso, working in the outer world; and Raze, the master mold, working in the inner world. All in all, a pretty promising start to a new all-ages comic.

BIOWARS #3, entitled, “The Virus Invasion,” comes out January 14, 2014. Visit our friends at the BIOWARS website here.

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