Review: Tetris

I can’t tell you anything about this book. I don’t mean that in a bad way, quite the opposite. You see, I went to tell my wife about the book and told her the entire book nearly. It’s a story that once you start, you can’t simply bail or jump to the juicy parts. It’s all juicy. It’s all incredibly relevant and important to this incredible story. Now… I’m going to quantify this next statement so bear with me: I love Tetris. I enjoy video games though since starting this site, I have fallen further and further behind on playing video games. But I love Tetris. I have bought Tetris a lot over the years and while that’s true for a lot of people, let me just say that I still have my original Gameboy copy of Tetris. I don’t have a Gameboy anymore, but I’ve kept that game. I actually went to sell a bunch of games not too long ago and found it mixed in. I quickly grabbed it and said, “not that one.” All of this is great, but really not that different from anyone else’s love of Tetris.

A little over a year ago my son was born. I knew zero lullabies. Zero. My wife had to have a caesarean because he was tangled on the cord and so I was thrust into the position of doing a lot for her and the baby. But I knew zero lullabies. And just shh’ing a child over and over gets old quickly.

So I sang him the default song from Tetris. Over and over. Sometimes increasing the speed as if I had passed a level and the difficulty increased. My theory was that the song didn’t matter, but that the tone mattered. In actuality we sing lullabies to calm ourselves which in turn calms the child. It didn’t always work, but to this day he gets calm when I sing the Tetris music. Because I love Tetris.

TetrisNone of this of course is about the book. The book which is by Box Brown which tells the incredible story of how Tetris came to be, how it swept the world and altered the destiny for not one, but two video game companies.

A lot of people love Box Brown for his previous work on Andre the Giant. I’ve seen nothing but praises for him and they are all well-deserved, but I think that there is something brilliant that people are missing because the detail is so small. He’s perhaps one of the most gifted storytellers of our generation. I say this because in order to take real life and make it interesting is probably one of the most challenging things to do. Real life doesn’t work on a three act structure. It doesn’t fit into what we’ve been groomed to expect from storytelling. Simply put, life is messy and while parts of someone’s life might be interesting, it’s incredible hard to take a part and make a fully fleshed out story that is consistently interesting. I’m telling you all this because what I think a lot of people will likely miss when reading Tetris or Brown’s other work, is just how damn easy he does.

There is no act structure for Tetris. There are just chapters; chapter after chapter of details and history, but the way Brown presents it is incredible. You’re never bogged down with the history, but you’re also never cheated out of more and it’s incredibly fascinating. Now obviously if you have zero interest in Tetris, video games or I suppose history, then you’re probably thinking, “I doubt I’d find any of this fascinating.” And that’s where you’re wrong. Because that’s the gifted storyteller I’m talking about. You don’t need to be interested in the subject matter or video games or history to becomes completely immersed in this story. I don’t know how long it took me to read it, but I do know that I never put it down once I started. I entered a time warp and came out on the other side. Time passed, that’s all I know. What happened in the world around me, is completely lost.

Brown’s artwork has a unique style. It’s not photorealistic or anything like that, but it’s detailed and clean looking. It still manages to capture the real world quite well. The thing that constantly stood out to me what his page layout. He used the page how he needed it to be used rather than worrying about the gutters and how many panels would be on the page. And yet with as much narration as the story has, the artwork still did more than its job of conveying information and driving the story. What’s even more amazing is the coloring which reminded me of old video games. He uses only white, black, and a golden yellow for the entire book. He never once uses the traditional Tetris colors and that was okay with me. Since almost the entire story takes place in the past the yellowish gold gives the book a sense of the era. It’s strange, but it really reminded me of old magazines and comics that my dad had. It was a smart choice by Brown.

It's hard for me to say this, but I’m torn. I’m torn because I thought I had my graphic novel of the year in the bag with Paul Dini’s Dark Knight: A True Batman Story, but then Tetris came around. This book is incredible. The story is so fantastic that it’s hard to believe that it all happened, but it did. Because Brown clearly researched the hell out if it and as much as I love Tetris, because of this book I know that there are others that love it more. If you’re still not convinced because I didn’t sum up the entire graphic novel for you, then the easiest way is to see for yourself, but prepare yourself for that time warp before you start reading.

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Creator: Box Brown
Publisher: First Second Books
Price: $19.99
Format: TPB/OGN; Print