Its epic scale makes it easy to see how Clockwork Game took six years of writer/artist Jane Irwin’s life to create. In the span of 192 pages, she traces eighty-five years of history by focusing on one spectacular object—a chess-playing automaton created by Wolfgang von Kemplen in 1769. While it was not the only automaton of the time, “The Turk” (as its audiences knew it) was the definitely the most popular: a model of a head and torso that could play chess against a human opponent. And play it did, against the likes of Napoleon and Ben Franklin, observed over the course of its career by thousands more including Edgar Allen Poe. I won’t ruin the machine’s inner workings for you, but just stop and think about it for a minute—what was essentially a chess-playing robot, invented in Hungary seven years before America declared its independence from Great Britain. If that seems astounding to you, think of how mind-boggling it must have appeared to its original eighteenth century audiences, who had just begun to understand the science in the world around them.
Irwin does an excellent job of tracing the automaton through its nearly nine decades of existence, telling the gripping story of the men and women who operated it along the way. She calls her story historical fiction because of the changes she had to make to the facts for dramatic purposes, but it’s historical fiction in the best sense: she tells an excellent and meticulous story while providing the background information that was left out or embellished (in extensive notes and bibliography) for readers who want to learn more. Her illustrations are wonderful: simple black and white panels that pack a surprising amount of detail into them, right down to the individual hairs in Franklin’s marten fur cap. Clockwork Game was obviously a labor of love for Irwin, and I came to love it along the way as well.
5 out of 5 Lightning Bolts.
Clockwork Game: The Illustrious Career of a Chess-Playing Automaton
Writer/Artist: Jane Irwin
Cover Artist: Paul Sizer
Format: Graphic Novel
On Sale: March 12, 2014
Publisher: Fiery Studios