M.K. Perker's Insomnia Cafe

Turkish-born artist M.K. Perker, best known for his work on the Eisner-nominated Vertigo series "Air" and the "Cairo" graphic novel with writer G. Willow Wilson, makes his feature-length writer-artist debut with "Insomnia Cafe," an original graphic novel released in November from Dark Horse. Like "Air," "Insomnia Cafe" plays with the edges of reality, following the adventures of a rare books auctioneer as he discovers a library of unwritten volumes. CBR News caught up with Perker to discuss the project, his own love of books as objects, and his comic strips for Turkish publications.

"Insomnia Cafe" centers around a rare books dealer who's fallen on some rough times and a magical library of books that are still being written. "Peter Kolinsky is a former handwritten books expert who is suffering from insomnia and some bad personal history," Perker told CBR. "He has lost his job at a prestigious auction house because he helped a criminal organization to sell some stolen handwritten books in the past. But the guy who runs this criminal organization, called Oblomov, finds Kolinsky and tries to get him help them with a stolen handwritten Qur'an. Kolinsky, while running away from Oblomov, meets Angela, the girl who runs Insomnia Cafe. And Angela introduces him to this secret place called The Archives where all the books that are currently being written are on the shelves. And Kolinsky starts running away from things and chasing things at the same time."

Perker described the pages of these books as "a metaphor to handwritten books of the old days" and revealed that The Archives, a library of novels-in-progress and other incomplete works, operates on a rather intriguing principle. "When an author completes a book it disappears from the shelves of the Archives," the artist explained. "So when you're reading a book at the Archives you're actually reading the original copy by the author whether it's handwritten by the author or typed."

"'Insomnia Cafe' opens with a scene where a book bleeds. So I think we can consider the books one of the four elements of the story along with The Archives, Insomnia Cafe, and the band of strange characters," Perker added.

Perker's love for literature and poetry equal to his appreciation for comics and film, and, like his "Insomnia Cafe" protagonist, he enjoys the physical presence of books. "I find a mystical aspect in books as objects, especially old hardcover books. Even the sight of them makes me happy," he said. "I collect old books and buy really weird ones just because they're old from the street shelves of Strand bookstores. They go only for 50 cents or a dollar most of the time. In one of those books, which was about the history of New York City, I found letters that were written back to an old New Yorker from his travel agent young lady friend. And these letters were sent to each other in the late fifties and you can see the dates and handwritten notes on them. I also go to this bookstore in Istanbul, which sells really old library books and encyclopedias that were thrown away from big colleges of Istanbul because they are really damaged. I love the idea of them being studied by many old Turkish intellectuals back in the thirties or forties. Also the name of the bad guy, Oblomov is borrowed from the great Russian novel Oblomov written by Goncharov."

MK Perker has gained quite a bit of attention--including an Eisner nomination--for his work with G. Willow Wilson on "Cairo" and "Air," both published by Vertigo. Given that both Wilson's and Perker's first major published projects in the US have been together, it is perhaps surprising that they did not know each other prior to their collaboration. "[Vertigo editor] Karen Berger is responsible for this match made in heaven," Perker confirmed. "I love Willow's writing, I love her character, and I consider her a member of my own family."

Going solo with "Insomnia Cafe," though, allows Perker to craft the story through his own methods, which are somewhat different from receiving a script from a writer. "I've been a professional writer-artist since 1990, since I was 17-years-old, and since then I have written my stories within the layouts," he said. "So, I don't write the script in a traditional form but I write a script before I start penciling which is written in the layouts. I think this helps storytelling a great deal. With this method you can write pauses or panels without a dialogue and the story goes very fluently."

Though "Insomnia Cafe" is Perker's first full-length solo work to be published in the US, he has written and illustrated many short stories for Turkish and European magazines, some of which have been collected into two volumes from Turkish publisher Çinar. Some of Perker's strips have also appeared in "Heavy Metal," and he has a story in "Gothic Comics Theater," which the artist described as an Edward Gorey-esque anthology of black-and-white stories with a darkly humorous approach.

Additionally, Perker has a new series for a Turkish weekly magazine called "Frosted Glassed Fish Tank for the Shy Fish." "I do a short story every week with a different drawing style and the stories are actually poems,' he said. "Maybe in the future we can see them published in the States."

"Insomnia Cafe" will be released in November from Dark Horse.

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