The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Memoir seems to suit Nate Powell. This collaboration, telling a very personal, very white story of the Civil rights struggle, works beautifully, in large part because of Powell's busy, sometimes frenetic line; his streets and sidewalks swirling away from the eye, his night and his shadows, shivering into tense, jagged edges that exceed the frame. That tension -- almost wholly the creation of the artist here rather than the writing -- lends an urgency that feels authentic to the story and the period, and elevates what is otherwise just a fairly predictable testimonial to some decent people in an indecent system into something more dynamic and allegorical.
Interestingly, straight history and biography, when given a graphic treatment -- as in at least two comics I've read on Dr. King and the Movement, and one on Malcolm X -- always feel a little like Illustrated Classics. There's an almost inevitable dumbing down of any long or complicated historical narrative when it is, of necessity, chopped into just so many discreet boxes and balloons. (There is the occasional, brilliant exception, like Chester Brown's amazing Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography.) On the other hand, the more personal stories, of smaller lives, so to say, are often expanded into something representative of larger issues and bigger stories -- witness Persepolis becoming how Americans understand the Iranian Revolution.
The greatest virtue of this collaboration is in those personal scenes, good and bad, that make this a personal story, a series of memories: kids tossing a ball, and epithets under a street-lamp on a summer night, a father crabbing with his kid in a tide-pool, a smoke on a courthouse stair. The larger set-pieces: the assault of a little girl on a bike, a police-riot, a court drama, work powerfully here, again, mostly because of Powell's pen, but also because of the necessary context of memory and family, the immediately familiar, smaller moments, throughout. These are beautifully made, and they make the book.
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