Calamity Jane: The Calamitous Life of Martha Jane Cannary, 1852-1903

By Christian Perrissin & Matthieu Blanchin, translated by Diana Schutz & Brandon Kander (IDW Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-869-4 (HB)

Other people’s lives are fascinating. Just check out any TV schedule to affirm that watching what neighbours or strangers are have done, are doing or want to do is a major drive for us nosy hairless apes. And it’s even more enticing if we’re allowed a smidgen of comparison and an ounce of judgement, too.

One problem with famous dead people though is that we’re forced to make those assessments at a remove – because they’re dead – and only have records or, worse, myths and legends to construct our portrait from. Thankfully, we’re pretty imaginative monkeys too and have drama to help us fill in the gaps and flesh out the characters.

Those gifts proved immensely valuable to author Christian Perrissin and illustrator Matthieu Blanchin in the creation of a 3-volume graphic biography demythologising one of the Wild West’s most enigmatic icons. The result was the award-winning Martha Jane Cannary: La vie aventureuse de celle que l’on nommait Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Cannary: The Calamitous Life of Calamity Jane).

Perrissin studied Fine and Applied Arts before moving into Bande dessinée, and from 1987 to 1990 apprenticed with Yves Lavandier before going solo with his Hélène Cartier series (co-created with cartoonist Buche). He has since scripted TV shows and film, written epic sagas such as El Niño and Cape Horn and inherited the scripting of venerable comics classic Redbeard.

Co-creator Blanchin started out as a storyboard artist and illustrator at the turn of the century, before moving into comics, producing work for a host of companies and titles. Eventually he moved into historical and autobiographical material such as Blanche and Le Val des ânes and the Les années series. In 2002 he was hospitalised by a brain tumour and languished in a coma for ten days. After convalescence and relapse he ultimately (in 2015) turned the experience into the hugely influential and celebrated Quand vous pensiez que j’étais mort: Mon quotidien dans le coma (When You Thought I was Dead: My Daily Life in a Coma).

This monochrome, duo-toned hardback (and digital) translation offers their collaboration in one titanic tome, blending the often-sordid facts of outrageous adventures, unflagging spirit and astonishing determination into a tapestry that shows the underbelly of the American dream.

With great warmth and humour, they construct a true masterpiece of the very real and strong woman behind all the stories – many of them concocted by Martha Jane herself – as she survived against impossible odds, doing whatever was necessary to survive and protect her family.

The tale begins with a graphic note from the creators, citing their sources and contextualising her life and times in ‘The Mormon Trail…’, before the unforgettable life story begins in an overcrowded cabin in the desolate prairie region of Utah…

In her life, Martha Jane Cannary worked hard for little reward, met scoundrels and scalawags, gunslingers and heroes, lived on her wits and determination and was forced far too often to compromise her principles to preserve others as well as herself. She knew many famous men in many infamous places but I’m not naming them. This is her book, not theirs.

Calamity Jane was present throughout much of the most infamous moments of American history in the most iconic locations. She had far more enemies than friends and was more often despised and ostracised than honoured, but always carried on, living her life her way. It was often tainted by tragedy, but she also scored her share of triumphs and experienced joy and love – and always on her terms.

This is a compelling and utterly mesmerising chronicle of authentic western principles and achievement that will enthuse and enthral anyone with a love of history and appreciation of human strength and weakness.
Calamity Jane: The Calamitous Life of Martha Jane Cannary, 1852-1903 Translation and Art © 2017 IDW Publishing. Story © 2017 Futuropolis. All rights reserved.