A tender biographical tribute to an artist’s inspiration.

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NOBODY'S FOOL

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SCHLITZIE THE PINHEAD

A graphic narrative illuminates the transformation of the real-life Schlitzie the Pinhead into the widely syndicated Zippy.

Griffith (Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Affair with a Famous Cartoonist, 2015) tells two stories here. The first is, as best as he could research, the life of a Bronx boy with an oddly shaped head and a childlike sunniness that would rarely diminish as he aged. When he was 8 or so, he was sold by his parents to a “traveling sideshow.” As such sideshows became exceedingly popular within the circus industry, he went by various names and personas, generally exotic, occasionally female—e.g., “Darwin’s Missing Link,” “Last of the Incas” “Tik-Tak the Aztec Girl.” He might have been lost to posterity if Hollywood hadn’t beckoned, with director Tod Browning featuring him in the sensationally received and controversial Freaks (1932). During its preview, writes the author, “a lot of people got up and ran out. They didn’t walk out. They ran out.” It was decades before the film would be proclaimed a classic—and a fledgling art student saw a midnight screening and found his career changed: “I’d just been handed ‘subject matter,’ ” writes Griffith, who relates both Schlitzie’s story and his own in the same large-paneled caricature that would mark his development of the “Zippy” strip. “Little did I know at the time,” he writes, “but I’d just set myself on a lifelong career drawing my version of Schlitzie.” The figure who had inspired him didn’t fare so well, as circus popularity declined and freak shows faced legal challenges for exploiting the mentally impaired. Schlitzie was committed to a mental institution after being deprived of his way of making a living, but he was subsequently released to a former circus colleague. The internet belatedly aided Griffith’s research, and he was able to connect with those who had known Schlitzie in his prime: “He could be a delight…like a happy child,” remembered one. He died in 1971.

A tender biographical tribute to an artist’s inspiration.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3501-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Abrams ComicArts

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019

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A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.

THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION

A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION

A searching interpretation of that sonorous document the Constitution, with cartoons.

Why have a Constitution to begin with? Because, remarks film and TV writer Hennessey—who, even if his prose is bound by balloons, turns out to be quite the Constitutional scholar—the founding fathers were keenly aware that civil rights were never formally written down in Britain, “and that deeply troubled the framers.” That’s as much of an establishing conflict as is needed for a superhero piece, and Hennessey, paired with artist McConnell, does a fine job of turning the making of the document, despite all the dull stretches in the Constitutional Convention that James Madison recorded in his diary, into a drama. Happily, Hennessey is aware of the truly radical origins of the Constitution, even as he notes its conservative strains. For example, he remarks that the system of checks and balances is a remarkable innovation, even if it sometimes seems that presidential actions—as with military intervention in Vietnam and elsewhere—go unchecked. In addition, laws are difficult to make in this country for very good reason: “Otherwise we might get too many of them.” Combining words and appropriate images, sometimes comic and sometimes earnest, the narrative visits such matters as the three-fifths law of determining apportionment, the writ of habeas corpus, eminent domain and conceptions of property and freedom of assembly and movement (for instance, the Articles of Federation forbade “vagabonds and paupers” from crossing state lines). Also covered are the many guarantees Americans take for granted—not least the Ninth Amendment, which states that certain rights not enumerated (“The right to scratch a dog behind the ears?”) shall not be denied.

A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8090-9487-5

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.

THE VOYEURS

“Graphic memoir” only hints at the artistry of a complex, literary-minded author who resists the bare-all confessionalism so common to the genre and blurs the distinction between fiction and factual introspection.

Who are “The Voyeurs?” In the short, opening title piece, they are a mixed-gender group standing on an urban rooftop, watching a couple have sex through a window in a nearby building. They tend to find the experience “uncomfortable,” even “creepy,” though those who remain raptly silent may well be more interested, even titillated. Bell (Lucky, 2006, etc.) is also a voyeur of sorts, chronicling the lives of others in significant detail while contemplating her own. As she admits before addressing an arts class in frigid Minneapolis, where she knows the major interest will be on how she has been able to turn her comics into a career, “I feel I need to disclaim this ‘story.’ I set myself the task of reporting my trip, though there’s not much to it, and I can’t back out now. It’s my compulsion to do this, it’s my way, I suppose, of fighting against the meaninglessness constantly crowding in.” The memoir encompasses travels that take her from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and from Japan to France, while addressing the challenges of long-distance relationships, panic attacks, contemporary feminism, Internet obsessiveness, the temptation to manipulate life to provide material for her work, and the ultimate realization, in the concluding “How I Make My Comics,” of her creative process: “Then I want to blame everyone I’ve known ever for all the failures and frustrations of my life, and I want to call someone up and beg them to please help me out of this misery somehow, and when I realize how futile both these things are I feel the cold, sharp sting of the reality that I’m totally and utterly alone in the world. Then I slap on a punchline and bam, I’m done.”

Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-9846814-0-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Uncivilized Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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