Comic Shots #23 with Josh Christie: Irish Coffee and ‘Insomnia Café’

Each week the iFanStaff passes along a tasty drink recipe and an even tastier comic book recommendation. The cocktail (or beer, or wine, or booze) and the comic can both be enjoyed independently, but they have a common theme and when served together they can make for the perfect reading experience.


With Chris and Ali‘s dueling Hot Toddy recipes over the last two weeks, it’s obvious that we’ve christened February “hot drinks month” here at Comic Shots. My turn at bat didn’t come a moment too soon, as we had temperatures around -8 °F (before windchill) in Maine this week. Alas, I don’t have a third Hot Toddy recipe to share. Instead, my pairing for this week is a bona fide classic among hot cocktails – one that you may have thought of before even the Hot Toddy.

Irish Coffee, my friends.

The history of this simple, four-ingredient cocktail is highly disputed. The most popular tale is that Daveina Davidson, a chef at an airport in western Ireland, added whiskey to travelers’ coffee to warm their spirits on a particularly brutal winter evening in the 1940s. Most people seem to agree on the origins of the drink at an Irish airport, though the year (anywhere from 1940 to 1950), inventor (Joseph Sheridan, Davidson, or Joe Jackson), and airport (likely in Ballybofey or Foynes) are disputed at bars around the world.

Agreement can be found when it comes to what exactly is in real Irish Coffee. It’s made up of coffee, heavy cream, Irish whiskey, and brown sugar. As cocktails go, it’s about as simple as they get. You brew coffee, stir in whiskey and sugar, and float cream on top. The floating cream serves a dual purpose – not only does it make for an attractive drink, but filtering the whiskey and coffee through the cream draws out their sharp flavors. There’s plenty of variations, but here’s a recipe for my favorite taken from Imbibe magazine.

Irish Coffee
• 3/4 cup fresh-brewed coffee
• 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
• 1 1/2 oz. Irish whiskey
• Heavy cream

Brew up some coffee and pour it into a toddy glass. Drop in brown sugar and add the whiskey, and stir until the whiskey is well-distributed and the sugar is dissolved. Using a black and tan spoon (or the back of a serving spoon), s-l-o-w-l-y pour heavy cream over the coffee so it floats on top. Imbibe suggests garnishing the cocktail with a coffee bean, and I can’t argue with such pleasant presentation.

What you end up with is a cocktail that not only looks great, but tastes heavenly. Like a Hot Toddy, the combination of a hot drink and blood-warming alcohol in this cocktail gives you a comforting drink you can sink into like a warm bed. The sweetness of the cream, bitterness of the coffee, and bite of the whiskey balance each other perfectly. If you take the care to use good whiskey and good coffee, you’ll have a drink that blows every restaurant’s old-coffee-and-well-whiskey Irish Coffee out of the water.

(Note: Bailey’s Irish Cream and coffee? Not Irish Coffee. It’s “Bailey’s and Coffee,” and it’s delicious, but they aren’t the same.)

As iFanboy’s resident scientist would be happy to tell you, alcohol is a depressant. It puts it a bit at odds with caffeine, the stimulant half of the cocktail. Whereas other warm cocktails may be set to send you off to slumberland, an Irish Coffee will wake you the hell up… at least for a stretch. As a character in M.K. Perker’s Insomnia Café puts it, coffee cocktails are a schizophrenic drink: “I want to get drunk, but I want to stay awake.” It’ll wake you up long enough, actually, to settle down and read a mind-bending comic.

Insomnia Café
Writer and Artist: M. K. Perker
Publisher: Dark Horse

Peter Kolinsky, a rare book expert that works a boring job at a book distributor, can’t sleep. He’s depressed, on the run from black market thugs, and painfully alone. A trip to the Insomnia Café introduces him to a pretty girl and the stunning Archives, a home for unfinished books by famous authors. For a lonely bibliophile, both are dreams come true.

With goons on his tail and access to books that could make him a wealthy man, Peter’s dreams and nightmares are all coming true at once. It’s a tough thing to balance, especially for an insomniac losing his grip on what’s really real.

As an unrepentant book nerd, this book hits a lot of my buttons. I can’t help but feel for the bookish Peter, even though he’s not exactly sympathetic. Just as I like Sherman in Box Office Poison, I like Kolinsky because he likes books, not because he’s likable. The idea of a mystical archive that collects unfinished works from King, Salinger, and Brautigan is just as engaging. Insomnia Café is full of big, bold ideas, and I can hardly fault Perker for writing a story so vast that it seems to fray at the seams.

Even that fraying – plot points that don’t line up, characters that fizzle or fade — may be intentional. The main character is a depressed insomniac, after all, and as the book goes on there’s a question as to whether he’s completely sane.

If you’re a fan of Vertigo books, you may already be familiar with Perker’s work. M. K. was the artist on Air, drawing all 24 issues for collaborator G. Willow Wilson. He also pulled art duties on Wilson’s graphic novel Cairo, and is the co-artist (with Peter Gross) on the current arc of The Unwritten. Perker wrote two graphic novels in his native Turkey, but Insomnia Café is the first he’s written and drawn for American audiences.

Perker’s art, I think, is something readers will either love or hate. Everyone I’ve shown his books to has had an almost visceral reaction to his style. Features — mostly heads and faces, but sometimes whole bodies or scenes — are angular and exaggerated. Kolinsky’s head, for example, is shaped like a baguette. The perspective in many panels is shifted, as if someone set down the camera and let it list to one side. The style can be disorienting and confining. It works incredibly well for a sleep-deprived guy on the run from the black market, but won’t be to everyone’s taste.

The style does allow Perker to write some wild, larger-than-life characters. Angela is a bit of a MPDG when she’s introduced, but grows enough over the next chapters to be a fully realized, interesting character. Oblomov, the man after Kolinsky, is suitably sinister. Though the artist didn’t go so far as to draw him with a black hat, everything from his suit to his mannerisms screams “evil dude.” My favorite character by far is Carlos, Peter’s co-worker and confidant at his day job. We’re introduced to Carlos when he’s apologizing to Peter for drunkenly claiming to be a CIA agent, but over the rest of Insomnia Café we find that he thinks everyone is working for one secret agency or another.

At just shy of 80 pages, you’ll probably tear through Insomnia Café in a single sitting. I recommend savoring the short graphic novel along with an Irish Coffee. By the time you reach the twisty finale of the book, you’ll wonder if your head is somersaulting from the whiskey or the comic.


Josh Christie is a beer guy, but that doesn’t mean he won’t go for the occasional cocktail. Follow him on Twitter for plenty of talk about beer, books, bookselling, and even comics.

Please obey the law and only drink if you are of age. Drink responsibly and never drink and drive. Buy the comics that make you happy. Smile more.


  1. Sounds like a good book