A sharp account that brings life and light to a period that has gone dark in popular memory.
Neither revolution nor radical are terms commonly associated with vaudeville. Yet Hajdu and Carey effectively illuminate the significance of three trailblazers who merit such rhetoric and who have been largely forgotten since vaudeville lost its audience to the movies. The best-known among them is Bert Williams (1874-1922), a Black entertainer who performed in blackface along with his longtime partner, George Walker, and who earned international renown for their “broad ‘coon’ humor.” Beneath the blackface, the Bahamian-born Williams was playing a role that was at odds with his intelligence and articulation, with a regional accent he had to learn. After Walker’s death, Williams was recruited to join the all-White Ziegfeld Follies, where he never felt like he fit in. Few comedians of the era were more talented or popular, but the racial barriers were often too much for him to overcome. As a White observer noted, “he was the funniest man I ever saw and the saddest man I ever knew.” While Williams both challenged and struggled with racial stereotypes, Hajdu and Carey celebrate two entertainers who anticipated what would later be known as “gender fluidity.” Julian Eltinge (1881-1941) became a huge hit as a female impersonator, even as he projected a hypermasculine image offstage. His success helped inspire what was called the “Pansy Craze,” an “emerging phenomenon of drag performance.” Eva Tanguay (1878-1947) represented the sexually liberated “new woman,” and she “got away with promoting radical ideas by projecting a comical ‘kooky’ persona.” She was as wild as Eltinge’s depiction of femininity was refined, though their destinies were briefly entwined as they were engaged to be married. Though the title suggests a tripart structure, with capsule biographies of each artist, the narrative is characterized by jump-cuts and crisscrosses. Hajdu’s lively scholarship and critical perspective match Carey’s spirited renderings, which range from ebullience to devastation.A sharp account that brings life and light to a period that has gone dark in popular memory.
Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021
Page Count: 200
Publisher: Columbia Univ.
Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021
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An accessible, informative journey through complex issues during turbulent times.
Immersion journalism in the form of a graphic narrative following a Syrian family on their immigration to America.
Originally published as a 22-part series in the New York Times that garnered a Pulitzer for editorial cartooning, the story of the Aldabaan family—first in exile in Jordan and then in New Haven, Connecticut—holds together well as a full-length book. Halpern and Sloan, who spent more than three years with the Aldabaans, movingly explore the family’s significant obstacles, paying special attention to teenage son Naji, whose desire for the ideal of the American dream was the strongest. While not minimizing the harshness of the repression that led them to journey to the U.S.—or the challenges they encountered after they arrived—the focus on the day-by-day adjustment of a typical teenager makes the narrative refreshingly tangible and free of political polemic. Still, the family arrived at New York’s JFK airport during extraordinarily political times: Nov. 8, 2016, the day that Donald Trump was elected. The plan had been for the entire extended family to move, but some had traveled while others awaited approval, a process that was hampered by Trump’s travel ban. The Aldabaans encountered the daunting odds that many immigrants face: find shelter and employment, become self-sustaining quickly, learn English, and adjust to a new culture and climate (Naji learned to shovel snow, which he had never seen). They also received anonymous death threats, and Naji wanted to buy a gun for protection. He asked himself, “Was this the great future you were talking about back in Jordan?” Yet with the assistance of selfless volunteers and a community of fellow immigrants, the Aldabaans persevered. The epilogue provides explanatory context and where-are-they-now accounts, and Sloan’s streamlined, uncluttered illustrations nicely complement the text, consistently emphasizing the humanity of each person.An accessible, informative journey through complex issues during turbulent times.
Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020
Page Count: 192
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020
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An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.
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
Page Count: 224
Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009
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