Review by Win Wiacek
There are books to read, books you should read, some perhaps, more controversially, that you shouldn’t, and there are important books. The still relatively new field of graphic novels has many of the first but precious few really important books yet.
It’s hard enough to get noticed within the industry as simply excelling at your craft is not enough, but when we do generate something wonderful, valid, powerful, true to our medium yet simultaneously breaking beyond into the wide world and making a mark, the reviews from that appreciative greater market come thick and fast. That was the case for Ho Che Anderson’s superbly comprehensive examination of the man that lived beside – not “behind” or “within” – the modern myth of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Over the course of ten years (1993-2002) Canadian cartoonist Anderson struggled to produce three comics propounding a less hagiographic perspective of a man who was as much sinner as saint. King’s determination, passion, energy and often sheer luck (or divine inspiration?) drove a cleansing wedge into a rotting, repressive, stifled society. He succeeded in opening enough doors for America’s racial underclass, so that forty years later a black American could be elected to govern the World’s greatest superpower. Not that four decades is so brief an interlude, but how many European or white Commonwealth countries can boast that their highest echelons of power have made even that much progress?
In both stark black and white and mesmerising colour, Anderson uses all the strengths and tools of sequential narrative to reveal, relate, question and challenge the oft-recounted facts of the Georgia Pastor’s life. This magnificent volume is available in luxurious hardcover and all-purpose digital editions, and was originally released to celebrate Barack Obama’s – and the American people’s – landmark achievement.
Gathered into one compelling tome is this hard-crafted triptych of issues, including restored extra and deleted scenes and the reasons for that; the thematically linked one-shot Black Dogs plus many bonus features, as well as a fascinating overview from Anderson; sketches and reminisces, a treatise on his working practises and a gallery of related art.
This is an authentic historical examination and a perfect example of the comics medium at its most effective. It’s incisive and critical biography, not pictorial puff piece and as important a landmark achievement for our art-form as Maus, American Splendor, Watchmen, Pride of Baghdad and Persepolis.
Whenever and wherever we have to defend comics from decriers and peddlers of prejudice, King will be among the examples which cannot be refuted, contradicted or ignored. It’s a book no thinking fan or socially responsible human being can afford to miss.