Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is one of the strongest arguments I have against digital one day replacing print completely. There is nothing quite like holding this book in your hands; the feeling of the lettering on the cover and the impressive built in cover flap. And how about that cover? It screams adventure and that’s exactly what this book delivers. The brilliance of the storytelling in this graphic novel is that while it is in fact about Delilah Dirk the story is told through the perspective of the Turkish Lieutenant, Erdemoglu Selim. It’s an account of his time with Delilah and because of that we enter into her world through him. What’s even better is the due to the fact that there are two main characters; it’s easy for the reader to paint themselves upon either character. That doesn’t mean that boys are with boys and girls are with girls, but rather whichever character role you associate with more. Are you the carefree adventurer that’s constantly seeking trouble and excitement along the way like Delilah? Or are you more reserved, but easily sucked into the antics of others like Selim?
The story itself begins in Constantinople (so if you have a date she’ll be waiting in Istanbul… sorry I had to) in 1807. As we catch a glimpse of Delilah sailing into the dock, we swing over and meet Selim. He’s listening to a traveler’s tales and decides to ask the shop owner who the man is. After he tells him the owner asks if he’s okay since he seems especially down. He informs the owner that it’s the last day of the month and thus pay day. The owner tells him his tea is on the house for he knows something we do not. Selim won’t take his kindness though and tells him that if he can guess every ingredient in the tea, that he must let him pay. The owner argues at first, but decides that the reverse wager is no big deal. Selim takes a sip and then lists everything in spectacular order. The owner is amazed, but then untruthfully tells him that he got everything wrong. Selim puts his coin in his hands and it’s clear that he’s a man that always pays his debts.
From there Selim heads to work where he removes most of his clothing and joins the rest of the palace guards in the throne room. Other men bring in buckets of gold coins and dump them in the middle of the room. Once their done the captain of the guard informs their guests that each man is about to be paid based on their skills. He yells, “begin” and the men rush to the middle and fight for as many coins as they possibly can. Selim isn’t the biggest man there and doesn’t have an aggressive nature. This means that the other men easily take everything from him leaving him with nothing. He’s able to secure one coin that’s dropped while leaving. His one coin is apparently the worth of his work and skills, while other men leave with filled bags.
Selim cleans up and heads to his quarters where he makes himself a delicious cup of tea. His moment of zen is interrupted when another guard summons him, saying that they’ve detained a prisoner and need someone that speaks English. He sighs for a moment, but then prepares more tea and some biscuits.
The story flashes forward and we get a great moment of past and present working together as Selim checks in with his commanding officer. He tells him everything he learned about the prisoner and we cut to their conversation. We meet Delilah officially and though she is a bit beat up; she’s still full of gumption. After some banter between the two we cut back again to Selim’s report. He’s basically learned Delilah’s entire life story, which means we’re learning her life story as well. It’s a very effective storytelling device. Instead of page upon page of exposition and convenient dialogue, we’re given the bullet points of her life and learn all about her in the process. As Selim continues reading his report we begin to see Delilah break herself out of the dungeon which matches up with Selim’s narration. Eventually their paths cross and a daze Seliem witnesses in front of his commander, Delilah’s escape… after she says hello to him that is. He’s instantly sentenced to death because he looks like an accomplice, while Delilah continues on her mission to find some scrolls that she came for.
It’s a beautiful sequence of events and of course Delilah ends up saving Selim and he joins her. He does so to pay a debt to her, which proves to be far more difficult than he expected. Frankly the opening chapters are amazing, but the book only gets bigger and better from there.
As I said before Selim’s character is more reserved. He mentions several times that he’s all about the quite life and that adventure doesn’t suit him. He doesn’t become a mega bad-ass throughout the course of the story; he’s clumsy and fairly weak all the way through. But he does have plenty of growth for his character and he uses his other abilities to help whenever he can. His journey is exactly what everyone wants for their first adventure. He has no safety net, nothing to go back to; he can only move forward and learn to deal with the situation at hand and make mistakes along the way.
Delilah on the other hand doesn’t change and her growth is small in comparison, but you know what? That’s okay. She’s a great character and already very well rounded. Really what she needs is a friend and someone to help her on her adventures, but even when she travels alone she gets by just fine; she just causes bigger messes is all.
The dialogue is fantastic. Delilah and Selim’s banter is spot on and can be funny or moving given the right moment. What was even better about the writing was the fact that it didn’t turn into a love story. Not even for a second. I was dreading it after the first couple of chapters, but then it became clear that these two characters were only ever going to be friends and that’s all either of them wanted. That right there alone makes this a brilliant action-adventure story.
If there is one thing every action-adventure story needs, its fantastic art. If there was something beyond fantastic and all the synonyms that go along with it, that is where you’d find Tony Cliff’s artwork. Cliff comes from an animation background and that is very clear by the way the visuals tell the story. Just looking at the artwork there is a fluid motion to each panel and page. Even though it’s two dimensional, it moves. You’re eyes fill in the blanks and if the dialog wasn’t there, this would be a comic in motion.
Again with action-adventure, the “action” part is very important. If the reader can’t tell what’s going on when a fight or thrilling sequence begins, then the entire scene becomes pointless. The opening scene with the fight over the coins is a true display of Cliff’s skills and sets up the reader’s anticipation for events to come. From this scene you get Selim’s struggle and the desperation of the men, but also how unfair it is. You’re worth is determined by how many coins you can fight other men for like a pack of dogs going after scraps of food. The action for this book is perfect and builds as the story continues.
We’re not done talking about the art yet. The scenery is to die for. It’s incredible to look at. There is a scene where the two characters are sitting on a hill looking out into the world and talking about how breath taking it is. Those were my sentiments as well. Every panel of every page is gorgeous, but the scenery steals the show each and every time it’s on display. Part of this comes from Cliff’s coloring which is also the influenced by his animation career. The coloring is brilliant and vibrant. It is the largest contributor to bringing this world alive and it exactly how you’d want any comic book to look.
First-Second Books is publishing fantastic stories. I went into this book just expecting a simple story and hoping that I enjoyed it. I didn’t know that I was going to fall in love with the world and crave more. It’s getting late into the year which means that there will be a bunch of new graphic novels for readers to check out; let me tell you right now that you do not want to miss out on Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. It might be too early to say this, but it has impressed me as much as any of First-Second’s books from last year and that’s saying a lot when you consider that list.
The book releases next week, but if I were you I would I would pre-order it so that it just ships to you upon release. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year and will be fighting for a top position on my end of the year list. If you do buy it, then tell Tony Cliff how much you love it so that maybe he’ll quit animation and work on graphic novels full-time.
Score: 10/5 (The scale is broken!)
Writer/Artist/Creator: Tony Cliff
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: 8/27/13