Thursday, 14 October 2010

Review; Johnny Cash I See A Darkness


Reinhard Kleist, a graphic story teller I’m unfamiliar with, writes and draws Johnny Cash I See A Darkness, about a singer I previously had little knowledge off. Okay, that last bit isn’t entirely true but during the eighties, when I began to develop my musical interests, Johnny Cash was out of fashion and it was only when I heard his version of Personal Jesus a few years ago, that I eventually bought some of his music. I say “some” but actually it was just the Hurt single because it also featured said version of Personal Jesus, who one critic said about, “how do you improve upon perfection? Get Johnny Cash to cover it.” I went for the Depeche Mode cover, but I stayed for the Hurt.

Kleist’s graphic novel tells Cash’s life story, working towards the singer’s notorious performance in Folsom Prison, and beyond. First thing to say about this book is I have always been attracted to the cover. They say that you should never judge a book by the cover but if you can’t make an informed decision about a graphic novel based partly on the front then something’s wrong. Kleist draws Cash with a sneer and sad eyes. This continues throughout the book but he also, once Cash becomes a man, draws him looking older than his actual age. It all adds to the sense that Cash knows more about loss and pain than I do. At first glance of the book’s interior, Kleist’s artwork looked solid but unexceptional. It isn’t until I read it that I realised how good it actually is. His characters are subtle and human, his environments dense and evocative. This guy really is a strong comic strip artist.

From reading the story, I was surprised at how much I already knew about Johnny Cash. I haven’t seen Walk The Line and only caught the tail-end of a documentary about the singer last year. I can’t imagine how I knew all of this stuff except through osmosis. His music’s been around all of my life and perhaps I simply made lucky assumptions. Kleist’s telling of Cash’s familiar story, however, is powerful and valid. He adapts songs into strips and draws their words floating through rooms and landscapes like spirits. Kleist also tells the story of Glen Sherly, the prisoner Cash is photographed reaching out to at the Folson concert. The artist’s version of Sherly places too much reliance on his idol and his fate, like Cash’s, like all of ours, is sad.

By the end of the book I was a little choked up but I wasn’t sure if this was the story doing this to me or the memory of the video to hurt that I started thinking about. You might think that these connections that Kleists graphic novel evokes takes away from its validity but I think this is what I See A Darkness’s real achievement is. The artist made me feel that the story is familiar and made me make the connections. That is a special and enviable skill

Cost: I bought this for ten pounds, retail price is £14.99, from OK Comics in Leeds a couple of months back when the business was experiencing problems due to building work taking place outside. OK Comics is a big supporter of good comics and if I lived in the area I would be in there buying stuff all the time. (Thanks to my income, it is probably a good job that I don’t live nearby). If you do live in or close to Leeds then I strongly suggest that you visit the shop. If like me, you don’t but you like good comics, then follow their
twitter feed, join their Facebook group and visit their website.

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