When we first meet Frank Armstrong, he’s sitting miserably alone in a grungy LA greasy spoon. He looks like a man who has the weight of the world on his shoulders, as every line in his worn face betrays a life of past horrors and current pain. “The headaches are getting worse”, Frank tells us, and by page three, after a fateful meeting with a gangster’s henchman, we see why Frank’s head is killing him; he has a tumor in his brain.
Tumor is the best-selling comic on the Amazon Kindle, and the book now comes to the printed page in a wonderful hardcover presentation thanks to the good people at Archaia.
It’s the story of a down-on-his luck detective, Frank Armstrong, who’s hired by a mob boss to find the boss’s missing daughter. However, his tumor has done bizarre things to Frank’s perceptions of time and reality. Past and present flow simultaneously in front of his eyes, and Frank finds himself continually fighting not just the mobster’s crimes but also the strange perceptions of his own mind.
“Time becomes fluid. That’s one of the symptoms.” The book flashes its story back and forth between past and present in intriguing ways. Thanks to the intelligent choices that Noel Tuazon makes in his art, the movement between eras is handled well. While the art takes an objective view of Frank’s world–we don’t see the world through his eyes–we do have a well-realized view of the fluidity of Frank’s perceptions of time.
The scenes set in the present have a rich brushstroke-rendered blackness to them–a real noir sense that is perfectly well-suited to this type of story. The scenes set in the past, however, are more gray and have a wash style. They seem like misty memories seen through a haze. They are long-suppressed recollections that have risen to the surface due to the fluidity of time induced by Frank’s tumor.
Tuazon does some wonderful work juxtaposing the two art styles–often putting them in opposition to each other to set up an intriguing sense of parallelism between the story of the murder of Frank’s wife and the attempt to save the mobster’s daughter.
The parallel structure in the art is especially interesting because it creates a bit of tension with Joshua Hale Fiaklov’s story, which doesn’t really have the same sort of parallel structure that the art presents and that Armstrong seems to perceive. The parallelism in the art is more a manifestation of Armstrong’s illness than a parallelism in the story.
This mismatch between story and art is intriguing, and provides a real source of tension that adds to the aesthetics of the storytelling in this book. Because of the magic of comics, we’re able to see Armstrong’s perceptions in both an objective and subjective way, with the art telling us one thing and the writing telling us another. We can see why everyone is a bit freaked out by Armstrong–why the gangster’s daughter fears for her life from Frank as well as from her dad, and why Frank’s cop friend doesn’t know how to act around Frank.
In many respects, Tumor is a traditional sort of noir detective story. It has all the traditional elements–a down-and-out cop living in a seedy section of Los Angeles who’s called on to help a frightened young girl. However, the addition of Frank’s tumor to the story gives this book a very unique feel and allows for a certain amount of artfulness that might not otherwise have been applied.
Tumor has a pervading sense of darkness that’s rather unique. We’re all used to detectives in these sorts of stories being endangered by the men who are following them. However, rarely has the sense of danger been more intense and palpable than it is here. Frank Armstrong is literally about to die, and the way he spends his last few minutes will help to redeem his whole life. And what’s more noir than that?