Category Archives: Philip K. Dick

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

Book and TV Pilot Review: ‘The Man in the High Castle’

Philip K.Dick's 1962 novel, "The Man in the High Castle"

Philip K.Dick’s 1962 novel, “The Man in the High Castle”

One nice perk at Comic-Con in San Diego this year will be Amazon unveiling a new episode of their adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1962 alternate history novel, “The Man in the High Castle.” The pilot episode, in a nutshell, is pretty awesome in how it presents a world in which the Axis powers won World War II. The ten-episode thriller comes to Amazon this fall. I think it should prove to be one of Amazon’s best offerings. It inspired me to go ahead and read the original novel. I was ready to expect it to be a different animal, much in the same way that the “Bladerunner” movie and novel differ. And I was pleasantly surprised.

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle"

Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle”

Comparing the pilot episode with the novel, I appreciate just how action-oriented this Amazon TV offering is. I admire what Amazon has done since they truly adapted the work from one medium to another. It really comes down to one big thing, that was taken from the novel, and will power the television series. That is to be found in the title itself. The novel treats it one way. The television series treats it another way. I won’t spoil anything for you, but if you’re one of those types who doesn’t want to know anything beforehand, then consider yourself warned.

What it takes the length of a novel to explore can be distilled into a compelling visual lasting only a few seconds on film or television. For the purposes of television, the essence, as it were, taken from another medium, cannot only be distilled but then stretched out to infinity, or for however many seasons. Here we have characters living in a world where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won the war and carved up the former United States. But there are pockets of resistance questioning the status quo. The biggest pocket of questioning resides with “The Man in the High Castle.” In the novel, this individual is easy enough to find. In the television series, this individual is cloaked in mystery.

And here’s the thing, the thing that makes the novel such a great read and which gives the TV show every opportunity to succeed: this business of questioning can get pretty interesting. At the end of the day, the questioning is about reality itself. Now, here’s the kicker: in the novel, Philip K. Dick was perfectly content to have a novel that raises these questions about what is going on and suggests a world where the Allied forces won the war. It is readily available in any bookstore and it’s even a bestseller. In the TV series, it’s not a novel but copies of newsreel footage showing the Allies as victors. This is totally an underground thing. And spooky. How do you fake newsreel footage showing such elaborate scenes? Sure, they could be faked but they sure don’t look faked. And so this hints at something supernatural. It sure hints at something that is not explicitly in the novel. What it does, however, is instantly evoke that delicious uneasy feeling of suspense that you get from reading the original novel. And that could very well prove a recipe for one successful run on Amazon.

At this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego, Amazon will host a special screening of the first two episodes of The Man in the High Castle. No worries if you can’t attend this year since the entire event will be live-streamed on EW.com. Check out Entertainment Weekly’s interview with Ridley Scott and his role as an executive producer on the TV series right here.

The special event takes place on Friday, July 10 at the San Diego Civic Theater. In addition to the first two episodes – the second of which has never been seen before – there will also be a Q&A with the cast at the venue.

Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle stars Alexa Davalos (Mob City), Luke Kleintank (Pretty Little Liars), Rupert Evans (The Village), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat Legacy), Joel De La Fuente (Hemlock Grove), Rufus Sewell (Eleventh Hour) and DJ Qualls (Z Nation). David Semel (Heroes) directed the pilot episode, which was written by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files). Both serve as executive producers alongside Ridley Scott and David W. Zucker.

Check out a teaser for The Man in the High Castle above. You can see what I mean about the spooky newsreel motif. The pilot episode can be seen over at Amazon right here. Suffice it to say, you can expect the 10-episode thriller and original novel to prove to be very distinct animals all the way to the end. You can find Philip K. Dick’s novel, The Man in the High Castle, over at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Amazon, Amazon Originals, Philip K. Dick, Television