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Graphic Novel Review: Tumor by Joshua Hale Fialkov

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Archaia Comic’s graphic novel Tumor finally makes its way to print after dominating the charts on Amazon’s Kindle. The novel, from writer Joshua Hale Fialkov, not only collects the entire story, but a host of extras are bundled with it to make this a must buy.

Fialkov presents a very unique story which somehow manages to be both familiar and alien as he tells the story of Los Angeles PI Frank Armstrong. Frank appears to be your typical run-of-the-mill, down-on-his-luck PI who drinks and is in dire need of that one case that will get him back on his feet. Local gangster Gibson Atwater presents that case to Armstrong when he gives him the job of finding his daughter Evelyn Atwater after she’s gone missing.

Like I said it’s a story that most of us are somewhat familiar with and one would expect when reading a crime or PI story. Where Fialkov does something different is with something tragic. Our hero Armstrong has a brain tumor, which is going to kill him. Through some careful research into the effects brain tumors have on the body and mind Fialkov presents a story with a shifting timeline that leaves Frank and the reader wondering what’s going on and ultimately what’s real. The foreword says it has a Memento feel to it, and that’s a very accurate comparison, which means if you like a linear story you may not enjoy Tumor. In all seriousness, though, even if you don’t like non-linear stories Tumor is so good that you should really give it a shot.

Armstrong is so brilliantly written that he really feels like a grizzled down on his luck PI who has maybe seen too much and drunk too much, after his former work with the mob, that he just doesn’t care anymore. Yet, somehow, with his death starring him in the face, he wants to do something good; he wants to leave a good impression on this world after suffering through so much crap. Towards the end of the story, as the flashbacks to his last days with his wife appear more regularly, you really start to feel for Frank. As you do, he also starts to become more erratic and lose control, so you find yourself in an odd place as a reader. It’s not bad enough that he’s got terminal cancer, and he’s being chased by some mean gangsters, but he has to relive the death of his wife in a way that’s so vivid to him he often doesn’t realize it’s not real.

 

 

On the more typical noir crime front, it's a story filled with plenty of twists and deceit that alone would have you interested enough, but through in some eerie similarities to the death of Frank's wife and the lucid nature of Frank's memory and its truly something else.

Noel Tuazon’s artwork really compliments the story. The black and white instantly gives it that crime noir feel, but the actual drawing style — a sometimes rough, raw and blurred style — really works well with the story. Frank’s mind is starting to betray him, and he can’t work out what’s really happening and what are his memories. The artwork really helps show the messed up state Frank’s in, and its use of grey also helps to show you what is memory and what’s real.

Tuazon has also done a really good job of capturing Los Angeles in the comic. There are some bonus panels in the novel which show real life areas in Los Angeles, like a corner store, and Tuazon’s version and the similarity is striking. It gives the novel a real sense of place for people to relate to and shows you just how detailed Tuazon's style can be. Finally, the similarities in the story and imagery between Frank and Evelyn’s tale and Frank and his wife Rosa’s tale make this feel like a story of redemption. Frank is trying to right the biggest wrong in his life, and the repetition of imagery and dialogue really helps set this up.

About Troy Mayes