A tender biographical tribute to an artist’s inspiration.

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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An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED

The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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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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