Review: Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

by Andy Wolverton

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, by Tony Cliff (First Second)

DelilahDirkSometimes, if we’re lucky enough, we find a title that reminds us why we fell in love with comics in the first place. Maybe it was the action that hooked us, or the adventure, distant lands, daring characters in dangerous situations, espionage, quests for treasure. Maybe it was all of those things, and more. And maybe we remember those comics as stories we could get lost in, abandoning the real world long enough to enter an alternate universe overflowing with imagination and wonder.

If all this sounds like embarrassing layers of nostalgic hyperbole, then how about this: we long for books that tell good stories and have fun doing it.

I can’t think of any comic or graphic novel I’ve read this year that tells such a fun story as Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. Set in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) in 1807, Selim, a lieutenant in the Turkish Janissary Corp, is assigned to interrogate a recently captured female prisoner named Delilah Dirk. Delilah isn’t really a spy, but the Turkish army thinks she is. She’s actually a combination world traveler/adventurer/athlete/warrior/master of archery and swordplay/boat captain… and a troublemaker.

If Delilah isn’t your run-of-the-mill female prisoner, neither is Selim your average Turkish lieutenant. He’s more comfortable brewing tea than interrogating prisoners. Selim loves nothing more than nice, quiet evenings at home, so it’s with great reluctance that he risks his life and career to help Delilah escape. Once Delilah’s free, Selim knows he could never live the insanely dangerous life of adventure she lives. Right?

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Tony Cliff, a Canadian animator/artist whose work has occasionally appeared in the Flight anthologies, has a gift for visual storytelling that’s simply marvelous, so much so that you’ll wish the book were larger than its 8.5” x 6” format. The lush landscapes and large city scenes are truly wonderful — there’s a two-page spread of a campfire/sunset scene late in the book that’s absolutely stunning — but Cliff’s sense of perspective and point-of-view in the action sequences will make you think you’re watching an Indiana Jones movie. The characters come across a bit cartoony at times, but the story’s tone is often humorous, so the style generally fits well. Even the deaths in the book (and there are a few) are usually played for comic effect rather than tragedy.

I could tell you more about the plot, but that would ruin part of the fun of self-discovery. Just read it and have a great time. If you’re looking for a gift for someone who loves adventure tales, you can buy Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant with confidence. According to a recent Tumblr post, Cliff is hard at work on Delilah Dirk and the Blades of England, although he admits it’s a long process. (Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant represents five years of work.) But that’s okay; books this good are worth the wait.

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Look for Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant and Tony Cliff’s work in the Flight anthologies:

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