More than two centuries before Deep Blue, IBM’s chess-playing computer, defeated world champion Garry Kasparov, the clockwork Mechanical Turk automaton played winning chess games against leading opponents, wowing the heads of state and the scientific community across 18th-century Europe. This fictionalized graphic novel focuses on the Turk, spotlighting the showmen who built, refined, and exhibited it. Irwin enlivens the tale with a good sense of drama and pace. As interesting as the narrative is, however, it doesn’t seem to support a full-length graphic novel; the story first appeared as a webcomic and, after a Kickstarter campaign, was released in this edition. The crosshatched black-and-white panels don’t offer much movement or depth, and they often seem crowded with talking heads and speech balloons, making some of the material slow going. The knowledge and skill that longtime self-published cartoonist Irwin brings to her subject is exemplified by the nonillustrated back matter, which contains extensive historical notes—suggesting that the story may have been better served in a different format. (Apr.)
"The Turk" was a turban-wearing robot before robots were possible—or was it? Aswoon at the idea of technological progress, the automaton's gaping audiences of the 18th and 19th centuries couldn't tell and mostly didn't care. Irwin (Vögeline) thinly fictionalizes this mystery of mechanics and mystification, from the automaton's 1769 debut before Hapsburg empress Maria Theresa to its 1854 destruction. Along the way, he exposes racial and cultural assumptions about minorities and makes the outsized personalities and dust-ups of those who brought the automaton to life as interesting as the mechanical Turk itself. Luminaries of the times play small parts, also: P.T. Barnum, Ludwig van Beethoven, Napoleon Bonaparte, among others. Irwin works in precise and graceful pen and inks, including hand-done crosshatching. The effect is a romanticized realism that could as easily portray, say, the writings of Jane Austen or Shakespeare. And by clever shading sometimes the Turk appears more real than the humans around it. VERDICT This lively, mostly true story will appeal to gamers, fanciers of steampunk and robot tales, technohistory watchers, and those intrigued by the magician's arts. Knowledge of chess enhances comprehension but is not necessary. For high schoolers and adults.—M.C.