photo by nacrowe
LOVE IN VAIN: ROBERT JOHNSON 1911-1938 (FABER & FABER, 2016) is lovingly constructed graphic novel depicting the basic narrative of doomed legendary DELTA BLUES artist ROBERT JOHNSON from the perspective of the DEVIL.
in terms of narrative there seems to be a heavy focus on the sheer physicality of the era, especially with evocative visual depictions of the thankless task of laboring in the cotton fields and carousing in the juke joints. you get a sense of how far outside of society JOHNSON was for pursuing a career in music that was unsanctioned by the BLACK BAPTIST CHURCH. you also get a feel for how all modes of escapism, whether they were musical, sexual or chemical in nature, where all just diversions from the harsh draconian reality that was being an AFRICAN AMERICAN in the JIM CROW, post-reconstruction deep south.
as with all types of narrative telling, choices are made regarding the subject that reflect more on the author/artist than the subject perhaps. this is true in the case of LOVE IN VAIN which was created by R. CRUMB acolyte MEZZO and finds interest in the extremity of the subject matter. in my mind, what i find more interesting about JOHNSON and his art are the ways that his upbringing and background informed his art. how they contextualized his lyrics. how those lyrics and that sound connected with generations of artists.
the devil at the crossroads gimmick is overblown in my opinion. it also is highly misrepresented as conversing with god in order to gain insight or wisdom is a hallmark of the WEST AFRICAN storytelling and oral history tradition than anything else. what gets perpetuated in well-meaning texts like this is the idea of a man who deserved to die for his talent, which is bullshit. the man was poisoned by a jilted husband of woman he was pursuing. shit happens. he messed with the wrong guy and due to his status as a societal outside, JOHNSON was left for dead without a doctor. his death was inevitable or a sign of anything.
i was a little let down that the narrator was the devil, even if he questioned the motives of several characters in the process (which is a bit of a head-scratcher when the lord of darkness finds you a bit duplicitous). seemed exploring WEST AFRICAN culture of HOODOO beliefs would have been more interesting, but hey the pictures are amazing.
photo & text by nacrowe
there is an interiority to SABRINA (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2018) by NICK DRNASO that i really appreciated. the idea that in an increasingly digital world where all of human experience is reduced down to images, sounds, words and videos emanating from a screen, that all of reality is really what we choose it to be. in essence our senses have been hijacked and our ability to trust our perceptions has been compromised.
SABRINA presents narrative surrounding the abduction and murder of a CHICAGO woman and how such gets played out online when the video of such goes viral. illustrated efficiently yet plainly with muted colors and faces with seemingly no emotion, this graphic novel ingeniously utilizes language as the locus of tension and action. language here serves to deliver these plainly depicted figures into a surreal psychodrama. in essence digital media has the transformative ability to make us all question our sense of identity and our relationship to each other. with relatives, friends and significant others thrown in the mix in the public square that is the internet, disinformation and false narratives are proposed and take hold in the collective consciousness, some forwarded by unsympathetic actors with personal agendas and others by professional journalists. it is all the same racket an loved ones of the deceased are merely products to be analyzed, investigated and questioned with contempt.
their humanity is compromised at the behest of public intrigue.
this book is less about a murder victim and more about the collateral damage that has befallen the families of tragedies such as SANDY HOOK who have been the target of disinformation campaigns by the likes of ALEX JONES and other nefarious conmen leeching off the body politic with their conspiracy theories under a false flag of patriotic fervor and the limits of free speech and personal freedom. funny how concepts such as civic duty, personal responsibility or even human decency enters the picture with these bloodsuckers. but they are just a symptom of our collective appetite for tragedy from which we all vicariously experience at a distance. we are all vampires feeding off each other.
SABRINA even depicts the extended circle of the victim engaging in this sort of behavior, checking out conspiratorial blogs and websites, listening to right wing news in an effort to make sense or draw order from the nihilistic notion that there is no meaning or lesson to draw from such a senseless act of violence. and for me that tension is the crux of this narrative and where DRNASO succeeds wildly in this subdued yet immensely affecting graphic novel. that very need to define what is undefinable rather than look truth in the face and realize that there is no greater intent or purpose for human suffering. anything else is a fabrication conceived out of existential pain. conspiracy theories, hope, religion are all symptoms of this nihilistic worldview. maybe the proliferation of information via the internet has only gotten us closer to that realization or distracted us from it with a renewed sense of creative abandon.
interesting book worth checking out.