Guten morgen/tag/naben, good readers, and welcome to another Infernal Review. I’m sure many of you are spending the holidays with family, which is only natural. The chill dark of winter often prompts us to seek comfort in the relationships we share with those around us. Some families harbor secrets, however, and becoming involved with such mysteries can have very serious consequences for a…
Set in 1768 in what would one day be Germany, the story centers around Luther Levy, a young scholar of half-Jewish descent. Having recently lost his patronage and his faith, Luther finds himself living with his twin brother and younger sister in their parents’ home. Desperately unemployed and woefully limited in his job skills, Luther warily accepts a job offer from an old acquaintance to work as a lecturer of theology in a small university-town. Once there, Luther works to adapt to his new situation and settle himself in, all the while growing closer to the mysterious Ariana, the university librarian,and to the secrets that surround both her and her family.
The art for this comic is fantastic, feeling at times more like a commercially produced graphic novel than something created by just one (rather talented) person. Every page is full of unusual angles, imposing images, and creativity. Characters are, for the most part, well-designed. Some characters look similar, but most of the recurring ones have distinct features, like Luther’s striking nose, that makes it easier to tell them apart. The first few chapters, however, can be quite confusing, as they feature Luther interacting with his identical twin brother Johann. There are still differences between the two, but sometimes they’re so subtle or obscured as to be of little help. Interestingly enough, the long, ice-pick-like noses that Luther and Johann sport are apparently a prominent feature of most Jews in the comic. While Jews being drawn with ridiculously long and pointy noses may seem like a jab at their expense, apparently, this feature is a carry-over from Family Man‘s older, sister comic Bite Me, where a version of Luther also appears. There the nose is a little bit justified, but it sort of kind of might contain spoilers for this comic, so we won’t go into it here. Let’s just call it an artistic quirk that stuck. The art is always good in quality, but it does gradually become somewhat sharper and cleaner as time goes on.
The writing is very subtle, almost to the point of having to reread a few parts, sometimes. Some readers may find the pacing to be rather slow, and to be honest, it is a while before anything “exciting” happens. Instead, however, what we get is good atmosphere establishment. The writing and, of course, the art combine magnificently to create a particular tone, a somber mood with a dash of apprehension and the enticing fragrance of a mystery. The comic doesn’t have action, or immediate danger. What it has are good, diverse characters with deep motivations. The dialogue for all the characters is as subtle as the rest of the writing, yet each character does have a voice and the way they interact entices the reader to continue reading in order to discover where these characters go next. There is, however, a lot of gratuitous (not entirely perfect) German thrown in, so unless you can understand it, or aren’t bothered by it, some readers might find it a tad distracting. The use of sporadic German does make me wonder what language their all speaking by default. As this is set in Proto-Germany, you’d think they’d be speaking German translated into English. If that’s the case, then are the bilingual parts inverted, with them speaking German and the German originally being another language like French? Ah well, this isn’t so much a complaint as it is just a wandering thought.
Luther is a wonderfully complex character. The son of a Jewish father and a Pietist mother, Luther suffers from the conflicted ethno-religious identity issues that so many people do. On top of that, Luther is so deeply agnostic at the start of the comic as to be teetering on the edge of atheism, something that was neither common in 18th century Europe, nor accepted. Forced to drop out of university, with nothing but most of a degree in Theology to show for his efforts, Luther has become accustomed to wallowing in self-pity by the beginning of the comic. In several ways, he has found himself at a crossroads in his life, the perfect situation with which to begin this type of tale.
As an affiliate of Luther’s alma mater, Lucien de St Yves is intelligent, charming, and oh-so-subtly dark. He’s the one who offers Luther the possibility of a lecturer’s position at the University of Familienwald, which is directed by Rector Jakob Nolte. Nolte, for his part, is direct, critical, rather manipulative, and more than a little sinister. Both clearly hide something; Lucien perhaps hides the true nature of his employment under Nolte, while Nolte guards a secret that has to do not only with himself and his family, but with the town as well.
As the daughter of the university’s Rector, Ariana Nolte has long ago taken it upon herself to become the librarian and caretaker of Familienwald’s vast collection of books, which she cares for deeply. While she may appear outwardly cold and intimidating, Ariana does warm up to Luther over time. SPOILERS Their budding friendship quickly blossoms into a passionate affair, which, in turn, complicates Luther’s employment at the University. Their relationship adds several elements and much drama to the otherwise tame comic. In a world of doubt , they find in each other someone they can hold onto while they struggle with their ever-shifting identities . END OF SPOILERS.
There are other characters, such as the Levy family, a family of traveling Roma, and a mysterious group that clearly shares a link with Ariana and her past. I particularly enjoyed the soft touches placed in the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Levy, for the one, brief scene in which they appear. Luther’s sister and her bond with her brothers is also tenderly crafted. While they only appear in the first chapter, it’s apparent throughout later chapters just how much they mean to the poor lost Luther. Like any good family, they serve as a spiritual tether and compass to which he turns.
Well researched, subtly written, and with an excellent atmosphere for a supernatural mystery, Family Man is the kind of story for both those lost in their own spiritual winters and the lovers of good characters alike. Such stories remind us that, sometimes, our journeys in life aren’t always through the outside world, and neither are the changes we go through.
Family Man written and drawn by Dylan Meconis. This comic, including all images used here, belongs to her. It currently updates weekly. This comic is intended for mature readers, contains nudity and adult content, and is thus NOT SAFE FOR CHILDREN (OR SOMETIMES WORK). The first two chapters of Family Man are available for purchase in the site’s store or in person at conventions. There’s a general FAQ page, should you have any questions about the comic or the manner in which it’s made.