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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

The Influencing Machine and Mr. Murder is Dead

From graphic novel blogger, Francisca Goldsmith:

Nonfiction and fiction, long-established publisher well-known to librarians and specialty publisher many librarians won’t recognize: what do this week’s pair of graphic novels share? Both:

  • Provide exemplary use of image and text to create a reader experience greater than the sum of those two parts
  • Offer accessible and rich accounts in which history and current events geometrically increase our understanding of how then and now relate and alter our understanding of past and present
  • Pull the reader in from the cover to the front page and on through the volume that is finely laid out, produced and bound for both reader ease and long life in circulation
  • Cost less than any of a whole bunch of other titles that purportedly offer similar information and entertainment
  • Conclude with creator afterwords that further enhance understanding of both the medium and the message

Like credentialed cartoon journalist Joe Sacco, Brooke Gladstone shows the reader right where she stands in the stream of information she’s relaying regarding the history, critique and forecast of the methods and ethics that make journalism what it is.  This is not an embedded reporter but the extreme opposite: the reporter who willingly depicts her own role in communicating and interpreting “the news.”  In doubt about where she collected quotes to buttress her own arguments? The sources are described and cited.  Wonder what to make of seemingly contradictory observations about politics, politicians, national security, international relations and even the evolution of the human in light of changing journalism technologies?  Her guidance is straight, dedicated to exposing the why as well as the how.

Victor Quinaz takes on the challenge of showing not only the changes age makes in a former hotshot detective’s life, but also the changes in comics aesthetics, between Murder and Kane’s heyday to their final conflict in the present. Like Gladstone, Quinaz entrusts the image depiction (and in Mr. Murder’s case, the coloring) to expert visual artists, while controlling the storyboarding as well as the scripting of the verbal text.  Brent Schoonover wouldn’t have drawn Kane and his environs the same way in the 1940’s as he would in the second decade of the 21st century, so he doesn’t; as Mr Murder Is Dead moves back and forth in time, the very style of facial expressions and postures change as much as do clothing and furnishing styles.  And thanks to careful choices carried out by Mark Englert in the coloring, the very paper itself appears to be pigmented in ways appropriate to the time period depicted in any particular spread.

Josh Neufeld, working with Gladstone, offers a variety of ways to communicate visually: echoing documented caricatures and editorial cartoons in some places, fantasy scenes in others and brutally realistic details exactly where warranted.  His black and white cartoons gather luminosity from the turquoise wash that is never over- or underdone, and text stands clear and perfectly positioned so that the reader must track image and text simultaneously.

So, a murder mystery and a précis on journalism: two excellent ways to explore how the individual and culture work with and against each other, in two fine books that can entertain and enlighten, whether approached alone or in a group context. Happy Labor Day reading!

GLADSTONE, Brooke. The Influencing Machine. illus. by Josh Neufeld. 170p. charts. illus. reprods. notes. Norton. 2011. Tr $23.95. ISBN 978-0-393-07779-7. LC 2011009820.  The Influencing Machine

Adult/High School–NPR reporter Gladstone proves highly successful in delivering insights, opinions, contextual history, and a heady dose of implications of current conditions of media consumption on both individuals and cultures and how it affects the likely future. And she does all that within this accessible and clearly drawn comic book. Neufeld lays out her scripting in clear, turquoise-washed panels, and together the two make sure those panels speak in both words and images essential to the message. And the message: at the bottom line, we make the media what they are and so we get from our news sources what we really want. Along the way here, readers learn about the history of reporting, the complex system of biases that journalists deal with in themselves, with politicians, and in civilization’s current events, and how audiences respond to types and quantities of information. Not only is this compelling and fascinating for news junkies, but it’s also an essential read for debaters, civics students and teachers, and those who wonder about the blurred boundaries between culture and politics. Essential for all collections.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA

QUINAZ, Victor. Mr. Murder Is Dead. illus. by Brent Schoonover. 104p. illus. appendix. notes. Archaia. 2011. Tr $19.95. ISBN 978-1-936393-07-7. LC number unavailable.  Mr Murder is Dead

Adult/High School–So, what happened to yesterday’s big-deal coppers? And how do they handle the death of a has-been arch-nemesis? Through the story, art, and perfect coloring of this creative team, readers get a satisfying look at the possibilities: retired big-city police detective Kane, known as The Spook, learns of the demise of his 1940-ish era rival, Mr. Murder, and can’t help both investigating and ruminating. In passages that alternate between then and now, readers get a purposefully and pun-laden stereotypical journey through how detective comics used to read and what a couple of angry old guys–the Spook has a sidekick, of course, in equally retired former Captain Chung–can unearth in the present. The real story, however, is whether or not the Spook was Mr. Murder’s rival in the arms of Lydia, who may seem addled by Alzheimer’s but who turns out to have been a pretty devious girl in her day. Every trope of detective comics gets a play here–bank robbery, the love of bad music, chiseled features, and shots to the throat. And each one has its corresponding riff from the retirement wing: trying to sort out whether Billy is girl or boy, who fathered Lydia’s son the banker, and whether Chung’s go steady attitude is better than the Spook’s shoot first and question later approach. Fine packaging in hard cover with large pages makes this a long-lasting trip down memory and parody lanes.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. […] The School Library Journal’s Francisca Goldsmith gives an excellent write up and review on the book and explains why Mr. Murder […]