That’s the magic and power of graphic storytelling.
Yes, the gang, or The Group, is all here!
I was just minding my own business when I stumbled upon a delightful review on Amazon of my new book, George’s Run. This was from I Forgive Heathcliff (depending upon your browser, you may need to do a separate search) and it gets to the heart of what my graphic novel is all about. All I can say to any fellow creative, no one will love and understand your work as much as you do until, all of a sudden, it does click and people do get it! This review made me think and gave me pause. It helped me to better appreciate my own efforts. One of the goals of my graphic novel is to connect the dots and make the subject at hand accessible. That is what graphic novels do best. Here’s an excerpt from I Forgive Heathcliff’s review:
The best thing about this graphic novel, spurred on by the brief, blossoming friendship between George Clayton Johnson and Henry Chamberlain which describes George’s life and adventures as a writer, is the sweet and straightforward artwork combined with a sort of stream of consciousness storytelling that picks you up and floats you along, moving forward through years, events, and situations. I particularly loved the author’s humorous, respectful nod toward the entire group of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers by depicting them as shambling zombies.
So, yeah, this review got me to thinking. I did hit the nail on the head. I have George as our guide, our main character, who connects us with a significant movement in contemporary writing. It doesn’t get much better than that, folks. You’ve got one of the most colorful and engaging of individuals, George Clayton Johnson, who acts as a main character in a novel about his own life and times while also taking on the role of tour guide into the inner workings of much of what we take for granted today in entertainment, both high and low culture. The members of what came to be known as The Group were fully aware of what they were doing: along with a wide variety of offshoots and variants, they were primarily engaged with reshaping genre writing for a contemporary audience.
Well, what can I say? I can and will keep saying more and more! For now, if you’re looking for one of those kind of books that helps make sense of it all while also being a fun read, then George’s Run is the book for you. You can buy it directly from the publisher, Rutgers University Press, or any number of other platforms and outlets, including Amazon.
Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson
Ballad of an American: A Graphic Biography of Paul Robeson. Art and text by Sharon Rudahl. Edited by Paul Buhle & Lawrence Ware. Rutgers University Press. 2020. 142pp. $19.95
There once was a time when it would have been as common to find a framed print of Paul Robeson (1898- 1976) as it would have been to find one of Bob Dylan. Paul Robeson became ingrained in the public mind from his landmark performances in such classics as 1933’s The Emperor Jones, and 1936’s Showboat. Robeson went on to become a popular champion of progressive ideals stemming from his scholarship and activism. With the same spirit as a powerful painter or incisive novelist, an industrious cartoonist like Sharon Rudahl (Wimmen’s Comix, A Dangerous Woman) can transport, enlighten and entertain. So is the case with Rudahl’s graphic novel adaptation of the life and times of Paul Robeson.
Onward to England.
Sharon Rudahl’s comics narrative provides the kind of compelling content that goes a long way to helping the reader process this multi-layered narrative. Images and concise passages of text are highlighted in subtle and direct ways by Rudahl, all the better to be suitable for lingering upon by the reader. It is a long and compelling journey for Paul Robeson, already a promising star during his time as a student at Rutgers University. Robeson was a major figure in the rise of anti-colonialism in Africa and elsewhere, and a tireless campaigner for internationalism, peace, and human rights. Later in life, he embraced the civil rights and anti-war movements with the hope that new generations would attain his ideals of a peaceful and abundant world. This graphic novel is published in conjunction with Rutgers University’s centennial commemoration of Robeson’s 1919 graduation from the university.
Ancestors denied justice.
The story of Paul Robeson begins by looking back a few generations. This graphic novel begins in North Carolina in 1828. We steadily progress to 1901 and the struggles of Rev. William Robeson, at odds with Princeton University for daring to “rise above his station” and for actually speaking out about lynchings. He is chastised for “stirring up trouble between the races” and fired from his post at Witherspoon Presbyterian. The reverend’s firing was finally triggered by his repeated requests for Princeton to admit his son, Bill. It’s interesting to note how Rudahl cuts into the space to cleanly highlight various pieces of text. The Princeton committee members tower over Rev. Robeson and he is trapped by a series of hateful statements. But the tide would indeed change.
The Emperor Jones leads to iconic status.
What really strikes me about Rudahl’s work is how organic it is and how her free-flowing approach totally supports the narrative. I have a number of theories about comics and one essential one is that auteur cartoonists need to have the freedom to pursue their vision. Some cartoonists have a signature style and others have their own particular approach. Both style and approach are very closely aligned. For instance, an artist like Milton Caniff has a very distinctive look. Maybe it’s a marriage of style and approach. It’s a balancing act. In general, an artist-cartoonist in pursuit of art does not want a signature style to rule over them. It’s better to have a robust set of options in your tool kit and so you follow your own particular approach–and that’s what I see coming from Rudahl, a pure artist doing her own thing.
Show Boat meets Black Power
You see what I’m saying with each and every example here. It’s like any given page could be turned into a painting. The potential to do that is there. So, with a cartoonist too caught up in just delivering a signature style, you can run into issues of it getting too repetitive and descending into, more or less, eye candy. But with an artist like Rudahl, you have someone who is genuinely invested in telling a story. It’s this kind of artist who will get into a zone, create a vision, that will resonate with the reader.
Paul Robeson, the activist.
The story of Paul Robeson is one of struggle and perseverance. Robeson was an exceptionally gifted, talented, and driven individual. And, despite that, he had to struggle to prove himself. Even after he had gained undisputed recognition and notoriety, he still had to overcome obstacles thrown his way. First, he overcame racial barriers. Later on, with a platform to voice his views, he could find himself at odds with the U.S. government. And, finally, with the passage of time, he had to overcome any distrust from a younger generation that might have seen him as somehow out of touch with current trends. It is fitting to have a visionary like Rudahl tell Robeson’s story. It is all the more fitting to have Robeson’s alma mater, Rutgers University, publish such a work. Also, it is worthwhile to mention that it is a university press that will most likely be most receptive to more artistic material like this than other publishers. That said, Sharon Rudahl, and editors Paul Buhle and Lawrence Ware, have all worked together to create a unique tribute to an All-American hero, Paul Robeson.
Singing at the Peace Arch, in Blaine, Washington, bordering the U.S. and Canada.