written by M.K. Perker
I first noticed M.K. Perker’s work as the artist on Cairo, and later on the ongoing series Air. Both of those were with writer G. Willow Wilson, and both showcased Perker’s ability to illustrate serious, and sometimes abstract, tales with light and airy pencils. The same style drives Insomnia Café, Perker’s new graphic novel, which he both wrote and drew, that takes several bizarre twists and turns before reaching its interesting payoff.
Insomnia Café is an often dense mystery that centers on Peter Kolinsky, a nebbish who has trouble sleeping and thus has even further trouble making it to work on time. He’s constantly in trouble with his boss, as well as just about everyone else he encounters. He’s a well-crafted character, not only in looks but in execution: Perker perfectly elicits a man who just can’t get his act together, who drifts aimlessly through life and career while others attempt to pull them back on track. Moreover, we feel the exasperation that those around him feel, watching him fail again and again at even the simplest efforts—like ordering food deliveries.
But while all of that shows how dramatically and painstakingly Perker crafts his protagonist, it’s not the real story of Insomnia Café. The real story here involves Kolinky’s continuous trips to the titular restaurant, where he meets a young woman who introduces him to a library archiving every single book currently being written. Mixing this magic realism with the story of a man who can’t get his life together fits well, especially when combined with Perker’s art, which takes on an almost caricature-like appearance at times.
The book begins in medias res (with Kolinksy in possession of a stolen artifact and being chased by mysterious agents) and then jumps back in time to bring us up to speed. Perker does these time jumps frequently throughout, giving us flashbacks without warning or explanation. As such, it can be difficult to follow the story, but it’s worth the attempt, and there’s always a payoff for the efforts. That is to say, panels that don’t make sense at first gain new meaning and understanding by reading further. Perker has created a challenging book, but a truly worthwhile one (I haven’t even mentioned Kolinsky’s criminal past, which also comes into play in the story; just trust that it all does indeed come together satisfyingly as the story unfolds).
I should also mention the cover of the book, given that it’s so strikingly well done but also becomes more interesting as you read the book. It will give away no spoilers to say that Grant Wood’s American Gothic plays into the story, and as you realize how and why, looking at Perker’s emotive drawing of Polinsky on the cover takes on new resonance.
Insomnia Café is probably not inappropriate for teen readers (aside from violence and coarse language, there isn’t too much adult content here), but it will most likely appeal mainly to adults.