Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling

Tony Cliff's initial entry in this series, Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, was my #4 trade paperback/graphic novel of 2013. Which I'm sure means much more to him than those accolades on the back cover from people like Kate Beaton. I didn't review that comic, because I'm bad about getting around to reviewing larger comics, but I'm going to review this one, yes sir!

This one is set in 1809, as Delilah and Erdemoglu Selim (the "Turkish lieutenant") are in Portugal, helping a family be reunited with their grandson. They've been working together three years, and this is largely how it goes: They explore what strikes their fancy, and help people in trouble that they hear about. The rescue goes off with only a minor hitch, but does prompt a brief disagreement between Dirk and Selim. His concern was to complete the job, and preserve their health. Delilah had been wounded by the boy's father, and was more concerned with wounding, possibly killing the guy in retaliation, framing it as necessary to maintain her good name.

Not long afterward, they run afoul of an English officer who successfully frames Miss Dirk as a French spy, and gets her branded as a traitor to the English. Which means he's tarnished her reputation, so she's dead set on undoing the damage. Once in England, Selim learns Delilah has been keeping many things from him, like her real name, and is forced to constantly adjust to playing roles that will keep her two worlds separate like she wants them. Which quickly begins putting a strain on their partnership at a point when they can't really afford it.

It would have been very easy to make Delilah a complete villain in her disagreements with Selim, but it's to Cliff's credit that even as she is being entirely stubborn and more than a little selfish, she still retains a lot of her positive qualities. She still tries to take the majority of the risks, she still tries to assure Selim's well-being, and she is trying hard to stop the Major, who has other schemes in action. It's a little harder to handwave not telling someone you've been traveling with for 3 years your real name, but I can understand keeping parts of oneself secret, and seeing how much she struggles fitting back into upper class English society, I can see why she's reluctant to open that can of worms if she can possibly avoid it.

Selim still comes off as a real trooper, though. He's not at all good at smoothly maintaining a deception or that sort of spycraft stuff, but he tries. And his naturally polite demeanor fits much better than Delilah's blunt approach. Although hers is much funnier, throughout the book. Her explanation to Major Merrick of how she and Selim avoid French patrols in the picture above cracks me up every time. Cliff's very good at body language, and at knowing when to zoom in on a face for a good reaction shot. There's one a couple of pages before that, after Merrick has insisted on being referred to as "Major", where Delilah tacks it on at the end of some remark, and Cliff leaves it for a separate panel entirely, so he can really show how contemptuously she's doing so.

I like how Cliff does the sound effect lettering, too. Not so much the particular sounds he chooses - at times he uses the actual verb that describes what the character is doing, like "LUNGE" - but the lettering of them. The thin, sort of loose font for noises like the swing of a sword, versus that big, block lettering for a solid punch in the stomach. It's "thin" noises versus "thick" ones in my head, if that makes sense. The ones you can only hear, versus the ones you could feel, if you were there. I think it's the shading on the bigger sound effects that works, gives it a feeling of three-dimensions, more weight, more solidity. But the effect is also a little ragged around the edges, like it's vibrating from the force of whatever is generating it. And it's supposed to be sound, so it is vibrations, so that's appropriate.

I generally enjoy Cliff's artwork all around. He occasionally does some nice bits with panel layout, but mostly I think it's solid focus on expressions, body language, action, comedic timing. There is one thing he does I'm not a huge fan of (which the picture above is meant to illustrate, and that's sometimes he'll have a panel along the top half of the page that crosses both pages. Then on the bottom half of the two pages, the other panels don't follow suit. They go left to right and down on one page, then you switch over to the other page and do the same. I feel that, if you're going to tell the reader to just go across two pages on the top half, you shouldn't switch it around on the bottom half. There's nothing wrong with what Cliff's doing within the panels, it simply doesn't seem like the best way to guide the reader around.

That minor complaint aside, I love this story, and I've reread it multiple times in the two months since I got it. You don't need to have read Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant to follow what's going on here, though I would recommend that book as well. It's been a year or two since I last read it, but I didn't have any troubles with King's Shilling. Cliff admits in a little piece at the end the book isn't entirely historically accurate, but I don't know enough about the era or the locations to know that, so I can't speak to whether it'll detract from the enjoyment of someone more well-versed. I wouldn't think so.


SallyP said...

This... this looks pretty good actually!

CalvinPitt said...

It really is, and my cruddy photos aren't doing it justice, frankly. And there's a lot going on plot and character-wise I didn't get into.