Philip K. Dick was a paranoid asshole. This is the main takeaway after reading Laurent Queyssi’s disjointed biography. He was also one of the most visionary and influential science fiction writers of the twentieth century, having written several novels that inspired popular movies and television series: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (adapted into the film Blade Runner), Minority Report, The Man in the High Castle, A Scanner Darkly, and more. He helped spawn a media culture where techno-thrillers and dark, alternative worlds questioned authority, while at the same time acting as a government informant and accusing his fellow writers as communists. His works explored metaphysics, theology, and the nature of reality and identity, and he received multiple literary awards and nominations during his lifetime. But we don’t learn much about these things from reading Philip K. Dick: A Comics Biography.

What we do learn, in short, one to two page clips, is that Dick was the sole survivor of a pair of twins born in 1929 Chicago, Illinois, that he was a terrible husband and father to multiple wives and children, prone to hallucinations and violent outbursts, and that he was a drug addict. There’s a lot of material here, but Queyssi, an expert on Philip K. Dick who lectures about his work, chooses to tell Dick’s story with a curt, straightforwardness that left me cold and confused. Instead of recognizing the author’s impact on the literary world and popular culture, the book focuses on the author’s many failed marriages and mental instability.

Before reading this graphic novel, I knew next to nothing about Dick’s personal life. Learning about his paranoia and relationships was an insightful look at the man behind the stories I’ve read and loved, but it was frustrating to learn them in a surface-level capacity that raised more questions than were answered. The narrator in my head sounded like a robot: This happened, and then this happened, and then this, and then that. Yes, but why? How? Is that it? Queyssi presents events in encyclopedic, fact-spewing fashion without exploring the possible meaning behind them, without actually telling a story. He does throw us a bone once in a while, like when Dick, completely out of the blue, tells his current wife that he was sexually molested as a child and that’s why he has trouble functioning. Her response mirrors our own: is he lying? The moment feels more like an eager explanation, a costume, that Dick is trying on to see if it fits, rather than something based in truth. But there’s no time to explore this, to find out for sure, as this scene lasts two quick pages and by the next Dick is seeing monsters in the sky. We never return to it.

The aforementioned monster is a threatening, spider-shaped terror hovering above Dick against a pink sky. It causes Dick to stagger backwards in blue jeans and a purple sweater vest, a veritable palette of pinks and purples that offers more of a glimpse into the writer’s view of the world than most of the book’s text does. I wish there was more of this, where the visual portrayal of writer and man, and the strange realities he wrote about, were explored conjointly. There are abstract scenes where the artist tests these waters, like when we see Dick in a hospital bed after suffering a stroke. Throughout the story, we see this same scene of the author hooked up to a breathing machine, but this time he appears as half robot/machine (replicant?) himself. It’s an effective image, and it’s a shame that Marchesi didn’t utilize the muse that was Dick to the degree that he could have. Instead, he sticks to a sharp, clean style overall that is, while colorful, mundane, straightforward, and the farthest you could come to embodying the mind and inner worlds of Dick.

This book includes mature subject matter and profanity and is recommended for adult collections. While I was hoping for a deeper look at Dick’s life and work, fans of the author may enjoy this graphic novel as a complement to more extensive biographies, or as a brief introduction to learning more about him.

Philip K. Dick: A Comics Biography
By Laurent Queyssi
Art by Mauro Marchesi
ISBN: 9781681121918
NBM Publishing, 2019

  • Becca

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Becca is a Reference Librarian at the Public Library of Brookline in Brookline, Massachusetts, and a transplant from the West Coast who will never fully understand the physics of snow and ice. She was saved from a life of shunning graphic novels by a group of perceptive teen patrons who saw a geek in need and showed her the light (and the Marvel.) To them she is eternally grateful, and shudders to think what might have been. When she's not consuming media and graphic novels, she is actively working to provide inclusive library services and promote diversity. She's particularly fond of comics of the indie variety and those that seek to represent humans in all our many forms. Some of her other interests include archery (doing it), roller derby (watching it), and dark chocolate (eating it.)

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