Review by Frank Plowright
It’s a comparatively frequent experience these days that another European graphic novel arrives in translation drawn by another magnificent talent who’s not been previously seen in English. That’s the case for Gianluca Maconi and Electric Requiem. Despite a considerable track record in Europe, it took Jimi Hendrix’s reputation to bring Maconi’s brilliant cartooning to an English audience.
Hendrix’s story has been told before in comics, with Bill Sienkiewicz a notable asset to a 1990s version, but this is even more stylish and even more evocative as Maconi pulls out trick after trick to ensure that’s the case. He’s helped by writer Mattia Colmbara exploiting myth and legend in different ways. It certainly applies to the adult Hendrix, but he has him dressed as Prince Valiant as a youngster, and supplying moments of his youth as if one of Valiant’s quests, and he’s used as an avatar throughout. Maconi additionally manages to provide an epic quality to the mundane moments well enough on his own via light and shade, vivid colour and a finely honed sense of composition. Other artists will be comforted by Maconi having a slight weakness, but then conveying the allure and thrill of music in a soundless environment is a thankless task for even the best artists. However, there’s not a page here that you won’t want to stop and stare at before moving on.
For some that’s not going to be enough. After all, Hendrix is nominally the star draw here, not Maconi, and initially readers are as well served as art fans. Colmbara stresses the dedication required to play to the standard Hendrix could, how that requires more than natural talent, and how an audience can tell when the motions are being gone through. He also highlights the racism Hendrix experienced throughout his life, but a later example pulls Electric Requiem off the rails, with an indulgent sequence following the assassination of Martin Luther King.
Colmbara never pulls things back on track. Having taken the time to explore Hendrix’s early life, he’s not greatly interested in the minutae of the brief fame years. The creative choice of larger blocks of text over larger illustrations to rush through the final year is puzzling, as that’s surely the era of most interest to readers who’ve heard Hendrix’s music without previously exploring a biography.
Still, that still leaves 75% of biographical magnificence, and Maconi’s standards never slip, so this is still worth investigating for anyone with the slightest interest in Hendrix.