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‘Philip K. Dick: A Comics Biography’

January 16, 2019
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I’m never sure if I want to know more about my heroes. Specifically, literary heroes.

It’s not that I have any aversion to biography as a genre – I even enjoy a good memoir now and then – but for whatever reason, I tend to tread carefully when it comes to books about the people who write the books I love. There’s a separation between art and artist that just feels more important when it comes to authors I admire.

But then I stumbled across a graphic novel biography of Philip K. Dick and I couldn’t say no.

“Philip K. Dick: A Comics Biography” (NBM Publishing, $24.99) – written by Laurent Queyssi and illustrated by Mauro Marchesi – tells the story of one of the most prolific and belatedly iconic science fiction writers of the 20th century. It follows Dick through the trials and tribulations of his life, from his early concerns to his later paranoia to his lifelong struggles with money. While there’s not much new here for longtime fans, those with limited knowledge of the writer whose work inspired movies like “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report” and TV shows like “The Man in the High Castle” will encounter some surprises.

Few writers have had the kind of long-range pop cultural impact that Dick has. His scores of novels and hundreds of stories have in many ways served as the foundation of modern science fiction. His railing against creeping corporatism and the surveillance state has only grown more relevant as the years have passed. He married bleak dystopias and technophobia and expanded consciousnesses like no one ever had. Mainstream success evaded him in life, but he has become an important facet of the zeitgeist in the time since his passing.

The nuts and bolts of the Philip K. Dick story are here. From his birth in the late 1920s through his wildly productive stretch in the 1950s and 1960s to his descent into altered perception and deep paranoia toward the end of his life, it’s all put to page. Most of the major beats of Dick’s life (including his five marriages) are addressed, though the weirdo highlight of all of them is always going to be that stretch in the 1970s when he came to believe that the Roman Empire never fell and that the world we live in is nothing more than a simulation/hallucination.

While I admit to never having delved deep into Dick’s biography, I do have a fair amount of familiarity with the surface details of his backstory (though I’m much more informed about his later years than his beginnings). There wasn’t a lot of new information for me, though there’s no arguing that Queyssi did due diligence as far as research is concerned.

However, the manner in which that information was conveyed was new. Marchesi’s illustrations lend a welcome sense of immediacy to the story. Seeing the man, rather than just reading about him … it makes a difference. And when the inherent flexibility of visual storytelling is utilized in service to the personal narrative, it’s really quite something.

“Philip K. Dick: A Comics Biography” is an unexpected treat. Anyone with a fondness for Dick’s work would enjoy checking it out. It’s an all-new way to look at the man. Even if you – like me – aren’t necessarily gung-ho about digging into your heroes, this one will likely prove rewarding.

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