REVIEW: Tumor by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon

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Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov. Art by Noel Tuazon. Published by Archaia.

If you have ever enjoyed a good detective novel or are a fan of film noir, Tumor will feel like an old story that got lost in the 1930s. Tumor follows Frank Armstrong, a private detective with a terminal brain tumor. Frank has no idea how long he has left to live or any reason to keep on living. The story revolves around him rediscovering his past and the reasons why his life has gone to hell. The last moments of Frank’s life are changed forever when a gangster gives him one last job to complete. Frank must weave his way through a twisted web of lies and death to find his reason to live. If you want to see how well thought out art and writing can make a comic something special, Tumor is definitely for you.

Tumor cover by Noel Tuazon.

Joshua Hale Fialkov is the writer, and it is clear he spent a long time researching Frank’s condition. The writing goes into a wealth of detail about Frank’s tumor but keeps it very enigmatic about what is really happening to him. You know about as much about the tumor as Frank does. This helps the you empathize with Frank and his situation. We learn about what is happening at the same time as Frank, witnessing his pain and frustration after each new development.

Fialkov also did his homework with the setting. Frank grew up in Los Angeles and knows almost everything about the city. It helps him out of situations and escape from danger. There are a lot of little known details about L.A. in this book that makes the city come alive.

Where the writing really shines in how it uses the symptoms of Frank’s tumor to help tell the story. Time is fluid in Tumor. Frank will readily flashback to scenes from his past or flash forward to the future. This is apparently an effect of the tumor, but it is also a unique and creative way to reveal information to the reader. Throughout the book, the audience is given subtle clues to Frank’s past through these episodes. Fialkov puts a unique spin on the flashbacks by making them a central theme and a major part of the main character’s struggles.

The art in Tumor appears unpolished or scratchy. That was my first reaction when I read the book, and I am generally not a fan of that art style. If you are also not a fan of black and white or scratchy art, you will want to read Tumor. There is a good chance this comic will change your opinion. The artist packed loads of depth and nuance into his art that you might miss with a casual read through. Every scene has a different style to it. Frank’s flashbacks are in a washed out water color style, while scenes in the hospital are bright and hazy. I will not spoil when or why, but later in the comic these different styles start to blend together. This art style gives each scene a unique flavor and symbolism.

Tumor page by Noel Tuazon.

Another thing that surprised me about the art was its clarity. Sometimes with the scratchy style, when the artist draws scenes with a lot of little details, the scene can become muddled or confusing. Tumor is crystal clear almost the whole way through with a few minor nitpicks. For the most part, the art has depth and everything looks great.

The artist, Noel Tuazon, managed to pack in little details into important scenes. This book relies heavily on trying to convey emotions through the faces. With the fragile emotional state that Frank is in, the little facial details really sell when he is upset, happy, or nervous. I cannot praise the art enough because it manages to be simple yet it can convey so much emotion that gives the book its heart and soul.

Tumor is a simple story told through unique storytelling and given emotion through its art. Frank as a character feels like someone stuck in time. He rattles off about the good old days in L.A. and does terrible things to other people. Though Frank is a bad guy, you can’t help but either like or feel sympathy for him. He is a dying man lost in a world that has all but forgotten about him. With the only thing keeping him going is his inevitable death; Frank must make up for his past and make a better future when he is gone.

Tumor page by Noel Tuazon.

All of this may make you think that Tumor is a dreary story about a bad person trying to redeem himself. That is far from the case. Fialkov has an odd humor to his stories, and Tumor is no exception. While the book has plenty of heavy moments, Frank never really dwells on his situation. There is so much to love about Frank because he has a delightful sense of humor, even when he is doing something less than moral. You will find yourself laughing more than a few times while reading this book.

I know a few people that would avoid Tumor because stories about death due to cancer can be hard to read. Fialkov keeps its pace relatively quick and puts in plenty of light hearted moments. It is hard to dwell on Frank’s condition while reading such an exciting tale. The book is not about the characters inevitable death. Tumor is about a man living his life to the fullest until the very end.

I heartily recommend Tumor for anyone trying to get into comics. This book really shows the power of storytelling through art. Tumor could have been told in an old dog-eared paperback novel, but the art gives this comic a life and beauty that really sticks with you. You will want to read this book if you enjoy detective procedurals, noir stories about grizzled people in dangerous situations, or just want to see how comics tell a story through art.

Tumor is available through the Amazon Kindle Store and in a sturdy hardcover edition. This book contains scenes of graphic violence and sexual situations.

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James Ristig

I'm James Ristig. I've been reading comics for ten years and I'm a freelance writer and editor. Follow me on twitter @RisTigger

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