Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff

First Second seems to have a near-monopoly on high-quality, full-color graphic novels for kids. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is another example of what I’ve come to expect from them, though Tony Cliff’s book actually has self-publishing roots. It started out as a web comic, and it’s still available to read online, though I haven’t compared the print vs. web versions to see if there are any differences.
Delilah Dirk is the daughter of an English ambassador, but that hasn’t stopped her from pursuing adventure – which usually involves stealing from very rich people. By the time she’s captured in Constantinople, she’s earned herself quite a reputation. The man set to guard her is Selim, the Turkish lieutenant from the title. She spins him a terrific and mostly true story about her escapades, and the two bond over a good cup of tea. Unfortunately for Selim, Delilah escapes while he’s relaying her story to his boss, and a miscommunication causes Delilah to turn rescuer and save Selim’s life. Selim has no choice but to run away with Delilah.
Delilah’s next target is a very wealthy, very dangerous pirate. She is more than happy to drop Selim off at any point in her journey, but Selim feels he owes her a debt for saving his life, so he stays. It’s quite a ride that she takes him on, complete with a flying ship and a bit of a body count. Selim has to decide if he’s truly up to such a life, even if leaving her would mean also leaving his debt unpaid.
While Delilah is the character that’s most heavily emphasized in the flap copy and other marketing, this isn’t really her story. Instead, we see her through Selim, who gets caught up in her adventures and eventually reconciles himself to an exciting, dangerous life alongside her. Selim is the character with the arc, the one who grows and changes. I can’t say that I wasn’t a little disappointed that Delilah isn’t the true protagonist, at least of this installment, but she’s still great fun to read about. She’s confident in her skills, a natural leader, and there’s never any doubt she’ll be able to extricate herself from any sticky situation; it’s Selim’s story that’s unpredictable.
The art is lovely – deep colors, clean lines, detailed landscapes. Facial expressions are all realistically rendered and characters look consistent from page to page. If you’ve been reading Stacked for long, you know this is just the kind of art I like in a graphic novel. I was puzzled by some of the words chosen to represent sound effects, though – swarm, slice, dive, loom, and so on. In the context of the story, they’re actually verbs masquerading as sound effects. It’s jarring and mostly unnecessary, as Cliff does a good job of telling the action of the story through the art without needing to resort to these words.
This is a natural choice for readers seeking adventure comics. There’s some violence, but it’s not graphic (almost bloodless, really). Scott has a second adventure available for purchase at his website, and one can only hope that more stories will emerge afterward.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant will be published August 27.
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  1. says

    I am not usually into graphic novels, but I think you may have sold me on this one. The stories international twist intrigues me – thanks for the great review!

  2. says

    As a semi-retired secondary English teacher, I find graphic novels underrated. This sounds like a delightful addition to classroom libraries like the one I used to keep for kids.

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