March Book One

By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-383-5 (HB) 978-1-60309-300-2 (PB)

It’s a lazy cop-out but honestly, some books just need to be read. March is one of them. It’s the story in his own words of legendary civil rights pioneer and properly-evolved human being John Lewis: the first of three describing his path from oppressed and sidelined southern child to non-violent activist to the halls of America’s Congress. Adapted by his assistant Andrew Aydin and multi award-winning cartoonist Nate Powell (Two Dead, Come Again, About Face, Any Empire, Swallow Me Whole, The Silence of Our Friends) it charts with astonishing intimacy and warmth a story of the good guys winning in the end…

The artist’s sensitive monochrome washes and tones painstakingly capture the dignity, determination, humour and pervasive quiet tension of the South during those fraught times and the growing groundswell of peaceful resistance that culminated in a very public confrontation on a bridge, a long walk to Washington and the start of a process still sadly underway every day…

It proudly celebrates everything the 45th PotUS seemed determined to roll back, and failed to accomplish, too so that’s a big Yar, Boo Sucks! to him too while we’re on the subject…

March Book One was first released in 2013 as a paperback, again as a lavish oversized (210 by 305mm) hardback three years later. It’s also available in digital formats: one of the most lauded and awarded biographies of recent times and immensely enjoyable and uplifting. You need to see it and the concluding volumes, too.
March Book One © 2013, 2016 John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. This edition © 2017 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story

By Alfred Hassler, Benton Resnik & Sy Barry (Fellowship of Reconciliation/Top Shelf Productions)

When you actually read the book cited in the previous review, you’ll hopefully notice an inspirational comic book enjoyed by many at the time. A potted history and primer on non-violent resistance, Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story was published in 1957 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and widely disseminated and shared by Civil Rights organisations, churches, schools – and young John Lewis. When Top Shelf released The March they also revived this historical treasure, and it too can be yours.

All proceeds still go to fund the Fellowship’s ongoing work…

The Underground Abductor (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales)

By Nathan Hale (Abrams/Amulet Books)
ISBN: 978-0-4197-1536-5 (HB)

Author/cartoonist Nathan Hale has a famous namesake and has been riffing on him, with great effect, for over half a decade now. I don’t know if he – and his familial collaborators – have any genealogical connection to the American spy and war hero of the same name, but the lightly comedic cartoon history books (such as One Dead Spy and Alamo All-Stars) that bear their shared name are a sheer, educative delight: making some pretty tough and harrowing material palatable and memorable by mixing fact and happenstance with a witty veneer of whimsy…

First released in 2015, The Underground Abductor traces the astounding life and exploits of Delaware slave Araminta Ross and how she saved countless black lives, ferrying them so safety in Canada in the days prior to the American Civil War on the “Underground Railway”. You probably know her as freedom fighter, abolitionist and secret agent Harriet Tubman

Rendered in welcoming, comfortable but fact-intense muted color and monochrome cartoon strips with beguiling overtones of the Horrible History books, her incredible exploits will delight and charm you and your kids and – like the other volumes of this wonderful series – ought to be a treasured part of every school library… once we have those again…
Text and illustrations © 2015 Nathan Hale. All rights reserved.

Nat Turner

By Kyle Baker (Abrams)
ISBN: 978-0-8109-9535-2 (TPB)

Nat Turner was a prophet rebel and freedom fighter who died for what he believed. As instigator and leader of a brutal, bloody and short slave uprising in Southampton County, Virginia on August 21st 1831, he shook up complacent America and paved the way to civil war and civil rights.

Anything else you need to know is provided in this powerfully evocative adaptation of Turner’s own words and actions. This award-winning, toned and tinted monochrome testament was originally released as a 4-issue miniseries through author Kyle Baker’s own publishing imprint before being picked up by the prestigious Abrams outfit.

Born in Queens, New York in 1965, Kyle John Baker is black, astoundingly gifted and blessed with an incredible sense of humour. You should read his other stuff like Plastic Man, Dick Tracy, Why I Hate Saturn, The Cowboy Wally Show, The Shadow, Truth: Red, White and Black, Damage Control, Special Forces and so much more. He does superheroes, gag stuff, political satire, commercial art and animation exceedingly well, and here he deftly relates a horrific piece of biographical history…

How and why is the subject of his brief ‘Preface’ before initial chapter ‘Home’ set the scene, by detailing a slave raid in Africa. Texture is provided by excepts from contemporary documents such as ‘The Memoir of Captain Theodore Canot: Twenty Years of an African Slaver’ and the posthumous publication ‘The Confessions of Nat Turner’, but the impetus of the tale is carried by Baker’s compelling silent illustrations: and they are uncompromising and unforgettable…

‘Education’ reveals a slave’s childhood in Virginia, and the events that led to the rebellion: how a slave somehow learned to read (an illegal act) and was transformed by Bible study into a divinely-inspired liberator driven by visions of ‘Freedom’.

The bloody actions are not downplayed or excused, and lead to ‘Triumph’ of a sort as the imprisoned Turner dictates his side of the story to journalist Thomas R. Gray…

With found print material of the period, a wide-ranging Bibliography and comprehensive ‘Notes’ explaining historical points, this is a timeless wonder you must read.
The Confessions of Nat Turner © 2008 Kyle Baker. All rights reserved.

Hip Hop Family Tree Book 1: 1970s-1981

By Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-690-4 (PB)

Comics is an all-encompassing narrative medium and – even after 40-plus years in the game – I’m still amazed and delighted at innovative ways creators find to use the simple combination of words and pictures in sequence to produce new and intoxicating ways of conveying information, tone, style and especially passion to their audience.

A particularly brilliant case in point was this compulsive compilation of strips and extras from self-confessed Hip Hop Nerd and cyber geek Ed Piskor (author of the astonishing Hacker graphic novel Wizzywig) which originally appeared in serial form on the website Boing Boing.

In astounding detail and with a positively astounding attention to the art styles of the period, Piskor detailed the rise of the rhyme-and-rhythm musical art form (whilst paying close attention to the almost symbiotic growth of graffiti and street art) with wit, charm and astonishing clarity.

Charting the slow demise of the disco and punk status quo by intimately following fledgling stars and transcendent personalities of the era, ‘Straight Out of the Gutter’ begins mid-1970s with South Bronx block parties and live music jams of such pioneers as DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Grandwizard Theodore and Afrika Bambaataa.

The new music is mired in the maze of inescapable gang culture but as early word-of-mouth success leads to first rare vinyl pressings and the advent of the next generation, the inevitable interest of visionaries and converts leads to the circling of commercial sharks…

The technical and stylistic innovations, the musical battles, physical feuds, and management races by truly unsavoury characters to secure the first landmark history-making successes are all encyclopaedically yet engaging revealed through the lives – and, so often, early deaths – of almost-stars and later household names such as Furious 4-plus-1, Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, the Furious Five, and those three kids who became Run-DMC.

The story follows and connects a bewildering number of key and crucial personalities – with a wealth of star-struck music biz cameos – and ends with Hip Hop on the very edge of global domination following the breakout single Rapture (from new wave icons and dedicated devotees Blondie) as well as the landmark TV documentary by Hugh Downs and Steve Fox on national current affairs TV show 20/20 which brought the new music culture into the homes of unsuspecting middle America…

To Be Continued…

Produced in the tone and style of those halcyon, grimily urban times and manufactured to look just like an old Marvel Treasury Edition (an oversized – 334x234mm – reprint format from the 1970s which offered classic tales on huge and mouth-wateringly enticing pulp-paper pages), this compelling confection (available in very large paperback and variably-proportioned digital formats) – also includes a copious and erudite ‘Bibliography’, ‘Discography’ and ‘Funky Index’, an Afterword: the Hip Hop/Comic Book Connection (with additional art by Tom Scioli) and a fun-filled Author Bio.

Moreover, there’s also a blistering collection of ‘Pin Ups and Burners’ with spectacular images from guest illustrators including The Beastie Boys by Jeffrey Brown, Afrika Bambaataa by Jim Mahfood; Fat Boys by Scioli; Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five by Ben Marra; Vanilla Ice by Jim Rugg; Run-DMC by Dan Zettwoch; Eric B. and Rakim by John Porcellino; Salt-n-Pepa by Nate Powell; KRS-One by Brandon Graham & Snoop Dogg by Farel Dalrymple, to get your pulses racing, if not your toes tapping…

Cool, informative and irresistible, Hip Hop Family Tree is wild, fun and deliciously addictive: sparking a revolution and sub-genre in comics creation. This is what cultural cross-pollination is all about and you should dive in right now…
This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All Hip Hop comic strips by Ed Piskor © 2013 Ed Piskor. Pin ups and other material © 2013 their respective artists. All rights reserved.

First Names: Nelson (MANDELA)

By Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl & Nicole Miles (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-097-3 (PB)

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun, fact and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

David Fickling Books provides other types of reading matter: novels, graphic novels and a newish imprint of cartoon and strip illustrated biographies highlighting historical and contemporary groundbreakers and earthshakers.

First Names introduces young readers to noteworthy achievers rightly deemed role models and adds now to its roster an absolute legend: the man who defied modern society’s greatest tyranny, defeated an entrenched oppression and changed the lives and minds of millions if not billions of people.

Devised along the lines of the mega-successful, eternally-engaging Horrible Histories books, these prose paperbacks come with a superabundance of monochrome cartoon illustrations to keep the pace of learning fast and fact-packed, and are generally bright, breezy, easily-accessible hagiographies with the emphasis on graphics. That doesn’t mean that they pull any punches when the facts warrant, though…

Written by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, First Names: Nelson (MANDELA) details the astounding life and ultimate triumph of the rational, gentle-minded freedom fighter who endured decades of personal hardship while shepherding his nation through an all-but-bloodless revolution to a tolerant liberation.

The amazing story begins with Introduction ‘Nelson Arrives At The Great Place’, describing how the 12-year old lad arrives at the royal residence of the acting king of the Thembu people. It is 1930 in the Transkei region of South Africa…

The full story begins then with the antecedents and early childhood of small boy Rolihlahla as winningly described in chapter 1: ‘Nelson is Named’ before encompassing school, family joy and heartbreak and relating how a carefree cattle boy with few clan connections grows into a scholar of promise in ‘Nelson Gets Some Boots’ and rejects tribal plans to seek personal independence as ‘Nelson Heads For The City’

Studies, setbacks, marriage and political transformation are deftly covered as 4‘Nelson Joins The Fight’ and 5‘Nelson Stirs Things Up’, whereafter the forthright but breezy tone takes a darker turn as the struggle against South Africa’s white minority rulers starts to bite.

Chapter 6 reveals ‘Nelson Goes On Trial’ and covers life on the run in ‘Nelson Undercover’ before the more public stages of this remarkable life are covered in ‘Nelson Makes His Plea’ and the concluding Chapter 9: ‘Nelson Casts His First Vote’, after which an ‘Epilogue’ deals with the later years of rule, reconciliation and retirement.

This is a subject with plenty of controversial and complex issues for kids to unpack, but the author has illustrator Nicole Miles putting faces to the names and places in smart cartoon collations such as ‘Didn’t you ever lose faith?’, ‘The Awful Passbook Laws’ ‘South Africa’s Horrible Racial Divide’ and brilliantly deals with potentially contentious issues by clever visual essays such as ‘Nelson Explains: Apartheid’ and ‘Nelson Explains: Life on Robben Island’.

There’s also plenty of visual sidebars detailing the basics with background detail like ‘My Tribe and Ancestry’, ‘How South Africa was Conquered’, ‘Circumcision’, and ‘Arranged Marriages’.

Ending the fun is a cool and crucial ‘Pronunciation Guide’ as well as a detailed Timeline (1918-2013), full Glossary and Index appendices for those eager to check out the facts and educate themselves even further…

Working in tandem with delicate sensitivity, the creators have constructed a superb introduction into the most remarkable man of modern times: a book any kid would be proud to share with interested adults.
First Names: Nelson (MANDELA) Text © Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl 2021. Illustrations © Nicole Miles 2021. All rights reserved.

Race to Incarcerate – A Graphic Retelling

By Marc Mauer & Sabrina Jones (The New Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59558-514-7 (TPB)

When I first read it, this book made me really, really angry.

That’s okay though; it was supposed to.

I read it again yesterday. Still angry, so it’s your turn…

Marc Mauer has worked to end criminal inequality since 1987. In 2005 he became Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, a non-profit organisation working for nearly 35 years to establish “a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration”.

The Project provides training for American defense lawyers; explores methods of changing the ferociously slanted legal system in regard to socially disadvantaged and racial minorities; seeks to debunk politically advantageous myths about the efficacy of incarceration, and works towards reducing the USA’s reliance on prison sentences through advocacy and by affecting policy on how best to safeguard the citizenry and punish criminals.

Highlighting disturbing trends and inequities in the criminal justice system since 1986 – especially in the treatment of non-white and juvenile offenders – the organisation has been consulted by Congress, The United States Sentencing Commission, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and other Federal Agencies, subsequently overseeing changes to national drug policy guidelines and helping shape The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

I’m assuming they were not contacted by the Trump Administration when Orange Donnie decided to free up all those Federal Cells on Death Row at the end of his regime…

The Sentencing Project particularly concerns itself with combating racial disparity in detention, cataloguing various forms of felony disenfranchisement and has led campaigns to end the still-widespread practice of condemning juveniles to life without parole, as well as working to beef up the mandate of The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

All of which made Mauer the perfect person to write 1999’s landmark exposé Race to Incarcerate, which shockingly detailed the causes and minutia of the meteoric rise in America’s prison population since 1970.

Mauer followed up in 2002 with Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment (co-edited by Meda Chesney-Lind). A telling indictment of a flawed, cruel, unfair and unscrupulous system, Race to Incarcerate was re-released in 2006, and in 2013 the powerfully polemical tract was brilliantly updated, revised and adapted by cartoonist Sabrina Jones into a ferocious pictorial broadside, re-positioned to engage and inform the general public and especially older kids who were most likely to experience the wrong arm of the Law.

Jones is a painter, illustrator, scenic artist, writer and activist whose evocatively lush and organically primitivist work has graced such politically aware publications as Studs Terkel’s Working, FDR and the New Deal for Beginners, The Real Cost of Prisons, graphics collective World War 3 Illustrated and autobiographical anthology GirlTalk amongst many others. Her most notable solo project to date is the beguiling Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography.

Following an evocative Foreword from Civil Rights lawyer and author Michelle Alexander, and heart-rending yet hope-filled Preface by author Mauer, the bare, bald facts are starkly presented in ‘Introduction: U.S. Prisons from Inception to Export’: tracing the invention of penitentiaries by the Puritans to the current situation where America has the disturbing honour of being number 1 country in the field of locking up citizens. The USA still boasts the highest rate of incarceration in the world – despite heavy and ever-increasing competition from old rivals Russia and China.

Perhaps that’s because they don’t just execute their criminals… no, wait…

The stunningly effective visual history lesson is followed by the American sector’s political background and lowdown on ‘The Rise of the “Tough on Crime” Movement’ from 1973: examining the divisive policies and calculated duplicity of Nixon and the Republicans in the wake of the triumphant Civil Rights Movement, and tracking the switch from programs of rehabilitation to specious but vote-winning punitive prison policies.

The situation culminated with ‘The Triumph of “Tough on Crime”’ which casts a spotlight on the disparities in dealing with increasing drug abuse during the rise of the Black Power movement and focuses on the draconian, tragically trend-setting policies of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who instigated the harshest drug laws in the USA when ‘The Rock Gets Rolling’

With prison populations rising rapidly and disparately, things took a turn for the worst from 1980, as seen in ‘Crime as Politics: The Reagan-Bush Years’, after which a particularly heinous travesty of justice is spotlighted in ‘Kemba Smith: a Case of Extreme Sentencing’.

The problem was not simply the self-serving prejudice of one party as poignantly, frustratingly illustrated in ‘Crime as Politics: The Clinton Years’, but plumbed new depths of hypocrisy in 2000 as ‘Crime as Politics: The George W. Bush Years’ stomach-churningly reveals…

Over the last 60-odd years, the whole situation seems to have been predicated upon a few fallacious, if not deliberately disingenuous dictums clearly exposed in ‘The Prison-Crime Connection’ which inexorably led to a monumental, institutionalised injustice system generating ‘Color-Coded Justice’: a concentration on profiling or criminality as seen in ‘The War on Drugs and African-Americans’.

The biggest shock however comes in ‘A New Direction’ as the authors reveal that – despite all the rhetoric and entrenched biases – the situation was actually improving as more and more States abandoned old, costly, failing punishment policies to try something new and humane – and more cost-effective. I wonder how the years 2016 to 2020 affected those policies?

After decades where States stopped building schools to pay for bigger and bigger prisons – with no appreciable effect other than depriving kids of an education – various localities tried different approaches; finding that where costly incarceration and harsh punishments don’t work, social programs, rehabilitation projects and investment in people do…

Coda:  Also included in this (long overdue for an update) book are details of outreach projects asking readers to contribute books to prisoners or become pen-friends with inmates, illustrated by Carnell Hunnicutt, a long-term inmate whose comics about his penal experiences and prison issues initially inspired Mauer to release Race to Incarcerate as a graphic novel (now available in paperback and digital editions).

Packed throughout with shocking, well-documented, specific cases and backed up by an eye-watering torrent of shameful statistics, this is a work with the potential to change society, so, with British politicians increasingly emulating idiotic mistakes and politically-advantageous, socially destructive criminal justice policies of our oversea friends, Race to Incarcerate remains a book every school library and home should have.

Moreover, if you care about people and justice it’s one you must read…
© 2013 by The New Press, based on Race to Incarcerate by Marc Mauer © 1999, 2006 by The Sentencing Project. ‘Kemba Smith: a Case of Extreme Sentencing’ © 2013 by Sabrina Jones. Foreword © 2013 by Michelle Alexander. Preface © 2013 by The Sentencing Project. All rights reserved.

Things Undone

By Shane White (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-563-4 (PB)

The sheer variety of themes and species in contemporary cartooning can be quite breathtaking to an old coot who grew up with the restricted comics fare of a baby-boomer in Britain – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These days I can peruse a graphic novel on any subject in any style and incorporating any number of converging genres – and this compelling gem comes pretty close to defying categorisation.

Things Undone is a little bit romance, a little bit alternative biography, a little bit punk and a whole lot of terrific. Young Rick Watts is an artist and world-weary peon in the art-consuming field of video games graphics. He’s just moved to Seattle for a new job, but nothing’s really changed, and relationship-wise things aren’t going so great either. Long-distance never works so he dragged his girl-friend clear across the country, and his 7-year hitch with her couldn’t have ended more badly…

When you can’t catch a break and the new life proves no better than the old one, what can a guy do? And it’s only a matter of time before somebody notices that Rick is a zombie, what with him leaving decaying extremities and eyeballs and such like all over the place. Maybe he should just get a gun and do the job right…?

This sharp and bittersweet examination of modern life is funny and poignant, using the populist imagery of the walking dead as an effective metaphor for modern life, but it’s the amazingly comforting art and production (the book is printed in black, white and shocking orange, in a kind of raucous skate-punk cartoon style) that underpins this tale, making the tragic comedic, and making confusion the means of exploring the mundane horrors of urban living.

Clever, witty and one of the most sensitive funny/sad, real/imaginary stories you’ll ever read. Track this down and change your life…
© 2009 Studiowhite LLC.

Willie Nelson: A Graphic History

By T.J. Kirsch, Coşkun Kuzgun, Jeremy Massie, Håvard S. Johansen, Jesse Lonergan, Jason Pittman, J.T. Yost,Adam Walmsley & various (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-262-5 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-263-2

I live a pretty blessed life these days. I love history and am addicted to comics and many of the best ones are just sent to me. The present trend is to combine both of my passions in graphic biographies – or even autobiographies. Our continental cousins have pretty much collared the market on the former, with a range of personal histories featuring the great, the good and especially the extremely cool, but just for a change here’s an all American(ish) confection that deftly hits that elusive sweet spot.

Whether you’re a fan or not of the music, you can’t deny the tenacity and enormous spirit of musician, writer, actor, filmmaker and activist Willie Nelson: an outsider’s outsider.

Utilising the talents of a group of indie artists writer T.J. Kirsch has compiled an effective and moving monochrome testament to the troubadour’s determination and talent which begins in 1933 in ‘Hill County, Texas’. Rendered throughout in monochrome, the history begins with Coşkun Kuzgun detailing a hard life for a young boy wedded to mischief and addicted to music…

As they grew, Willie and sister Bobbie became local celebrities – but not rich – performing, so he began a career in radio, using the opportunity to plug his own material. Never finding that elusive hit, Willie joined the Air Force in 1951 until a persistent back injury forced him out of the services, just in time to stumble into matrimony…

‘A Humble Picker’ (by Jeremy Massie) traces that tempestuous relationship and Willie’s attempts to feed his family in and out of showbiz, before sliding back into disc jockeying and discovering marijuana…

The slow painful climb begins in Håvard S. Johansen’s ‘Country Willie’, continues in ‘Grinding Away’ (Jesse Lonergan) and culminates in professional breakthroughs and personal breakdowns in Austin, Texas (by Jason Pittman) as 1970 sees the true commencement of the legend…

J.T. Yost depicts a life hard-lived but well-worth the effort in ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and the saga sparkles to a close – for now – in the all-T.J. Kirsch chapter ‘Elder Statesman’, revealing that music and legends just keep on going…

With Intro, Outro, Chapter and Endpaper illustrations by Adam Walmsley plus a bibliography and full ‘Song Credits’listing, this is an immensely likable tract that feels like a journey shared with a most interesting stranger. You may not like the music – yet – but you’ll be unable to not love the indomitable, irrepressible man.

© 2020 T.J. Kirsch and each respective artist. All rights reserved and managed by NBM Publishing, Inc.
First printing September 2020

Willie Nelson: A Graphic History is scheduled for release in hardback and digitally on September 15th 2020, and is available for pre-order now.

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Leonardo da Vinci: The Renaissance of the World

By Marwan Kahil & Ariel Vittori, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-259-5 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-260-1

Some people are simply so famous that everybody thinks they already know all about them. That’s what makes biographies like this one such a tricky proposition. As always, talent will tell and the narrative gifts of writer Marwan Kahil and illustrator Ariel Vittori are more than sufficient to breathe fresh life into a much-told tale of one of the most accomplished men in world history…

Kahil (A. Einstein – the Poetry of Real) studied at the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris and Simon Boudvin’s prestigious Graphic Art Workshops before deciding to split his time and efforts between comics and film and theatre. Rome-based Ariel Vittori (Quelques pincées de désir) is an artist and designer who numbers Disney, Campari and Monadori amongst her satisfied clients, although her true calling is narrative illustration. She is co-founder and President of Attacapanni Press: an independent publisher matching rising stars with seasoned comics veterans…

Available in English in both sturdy hardback and assorted digital formats, Leonardo da Vinci: The Renaissance of the World opens with a querulous preface from Kahil before the Maestro’s eventful life begins to unfold in glorious colour as the elder reminisces in Rome 1515 anno domini…

It begins with ‘Chapter 1: A Young Man Unlike Any Other’ in April 1452 at the hamlet of Anchiano (near Vinci) with the welcoming of a very observant baby to loving extended family. Time passes and a doting grandfather passes, leaving the special child apprenticed to a painter in Florence…

The present interrupts as the elderly Leonardo falls foul of the Roman clergy and is forced to flee to France…

‘Chapter 2: The Most Handsome Man in Florence’ then follows the seemingly blessed teenager as he excels and overtakes his mentor Andrea del Verrocchio, roistering his way through Florence and making many friends and far more enemies as he courts rich, powerful and essentially dangerous patrons. Throughout it all he is driven by his unconventional romantic drive and fanatical compulsion to see more and understand everything…

In ‘Chapter 3: The Sforza’s Man’ the itinerant ideas man reaches Milan and works for the powerful duke, even as his older self in 1515 must deal with the so-different responses of his two apprentices Salaì and Francesco to their impending arrest and excommunication…

The sage concludes as the great man finally achieves a measure of peace and security under the patronage of lifelong admirer Francis I, allowing Leonardo to end his days in ‘Chapter 4: In the Service of the King of France’

Although many scenes and snippets are taken from non-chronological key moments, the overall effect reveals a life both frustrating and often dangerous, but lived very much on the scholar’s own terms and with few regrets. The tale is also liberally dosed with revelatory secrets on the creation of the Masters greatest artworks and scientific discoveries, adding a degree of enthralling vitality to proceedings.

This beguiling dramatized biography is splendidly augmented by educational extras, such as with ‘Leonardo da Vinci – Works’: a commentary on many of his creations, supplemented by a crucial illustrated menu of ‘Principal Players’, a fulsome list of further reading in ‘More on Leonardo’ and a copious illustrated collection of ‘Quotes of Leonardo da Vinci’.

Seen here is a visual delight celebrating a unique mind and personality, and one you should reacquaint yourself with as soon as you can.

© 2017 Blue Lotus Prod. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

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The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded

By Jim Ottaviani & Leland Purvis (Abrams ComicArts)
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1893-9 (HB) 978-1-4197-3645-2 (TPB)

Like every persecuted grouping of humanity, the LGBTQ community have far too many martyrs, but apart from Oscar Wilde and perhaps Harvey Milk, how many can you name? If any, I’ll bet Alan Turing tops that list…

Spellbindingly scripted by Jim Ottaviani (who has similarly eulogised and dissected quantum physicist (Richard) Feynman and – in Primates – primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas) with compellingly effective art by Leland Purvis (Vox, Pubo, Vulcan & Vishnu and Suspended in language: Niels Bohr’s life, discoveries, and the century he shaped – a previous collaboration with Ottoviani), this full-colour hardback, trade paperback or eBook biography divides Turing’s life into three broad sections, incisively and winningly reviewed as if in a documentary.

Events from his turbulent life are deftly mixed with faux “interviews” and candid disclosures from those who knew him – his mother, the computing “girls” at Bletchley Park, fiancée Joan Clark, Professor Max Newman, engineer and lab partner Bayley and the weak, shady “rent-boy” who brought about Turing’s eventual downfall and death…

‘Universal Computing’ covers the difficult, solitary boy’s childhood and college years, providing plenty of revelatory scenes showing how smart, obsessed and just plain different Alan Mathison Turing always was.

Top Secret Ultra’ focuses on the war years that built Turing’s reputation as a cryptographer and inventor at the officially “non-existent” base where the Enigma Code was cracked and the battle against fascism won.

The most painful and potent moments are seen in his post-war years at Manchester University, trying to beat the Americans in the ferociously competitive race to build Thinking Machines. Here he came under increasing stress as his open homosexuality – accepted as fact and ignored at Bletchley – gradually overtook and destroyed the life of the mis-socialised plain-speaking genius whose thoughts and writings resulted in the breakthroughs everybody now knows as ‘The Imitation Game’

Rounding out the cruelly educational experience is a poignant and challenging ‘Authors Note’ touching on the still-unresolved mystery concerning Turing’s death, a vast ‘Bibliography and Recommended Reading’ list and a bewilderingly comprehensive ‘Notes and References’ section, covering everything from the panel structures of this tale to the mathematics involved in and comprising much of the book’s subtly beguiling make-up.

This is an astoundingly inviting way to take in a true story of incredible accomplishment, dedicated passion and terrifying naivety, ending in a horrific loss to us all…

Please be warned: this is categorically not an adaptation of the 2014 film.
Text © 2016 Jim Ottaviani. Illustrations © 2016 Leland Purvis. All rights reserved.