I picked up Fred Van Lente’s first books Ten Dead Comedians because I was searching for books for my annual Frighteningly Good Reads. The cover was adorably intriguing. I was pleasantly surprised by the caliber of the writing and subsequently not surprised at all to discover that Van Lente is a heavily published and popular comic book writer. I am always in awe of a comic book writer’s ability to tell a whole story in so few words. When I saw that he had a second book out I could hardly wait to read it. I finally had the chance to enjoy it last week and it was everything I was hoping it would be and more!
First of all, again, how fantastic is this cover? If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed it was a graphic novel. Second, this book was published by Quick Books and I am absolutely obsessed with everything they have to offer. I found myself on their website for more than an hour just scribbling an extended birthday wish list for myself and everyone I have ever met. Check it out and I dare you to not find a dozen things you want.
On to the review! Much like Ten Dead Comedians Van Lente does a masterful job at blending fantasy and reality. I loved spotting points he made in Comedians and attempting to figure out who he was referencing. I had the opportunity to play the same fun game with The Con Artist. And, since Van Lente is a comic book artist and has sat on artist’s alley himself, the whole book felt grounded in reality. Well, hopefully the multiple murders haven’t been something he has experienced…
In The Con Arist, veteran comic book artist Mike Mason finds himself at San Diego Comic-Con ready to work artist alley, make some money, and give the lifetime achievement award to his mentor. But Mike’s mentor, the comic book genius Ben K, has died. Ben’s death is just the first of many during the con and as the bodies pile up so does the attention on Mike as he becomes the prime suspect. As he copes with obsessive fans, protestors, old friends, enemies, and his ex-wife, Mike will have to solve more than the murders to clear his name and help finally resolve a seedy comic secret.
If you have never been to a con, this book will bring it to life for you. If you have attended one you will absolutely recognize many of the background characters. I have only been to my local con and I still felt like a total insider reading this book. The book just painted the experience so well. Meanwhile, Van Lente cleverly slips the ins and outs of what it means to be a published comic book writer both during a con and while trying to stay a published author. Much like Mike Reiss’ insider perspective in Springfield Confidential, I was shocked at the amount of work and the apparent speed that these artists can produce a finished product. It always looks so laid back when I see them drawing at cons that it never occurred to me that they were rapidly working under a deadline. I can only hope that the industry is marginally less cut throat than in this story but I suspect this aspect is also grounded in reality.
This multi-layered mystery was just as much fun as Ten Dead Comedians with the added bonus of being at a con. If you are a comic book nerd, you want to write comic books, or you just like trying to solve clever mysteries this book is a perfect pick!
Tell me, please!
Have you ever been to a comic book con?