Thursday, July 3, 2008
Johanna had a a great interview last week with Rob Vollman, writer of the graphic novel Bluesman (which is due out in a new hardcover edition in August):
JDC: What’s a white guy from Oklahoma doing writing a graphic novel about a black guitar player during the Depression?
RV: My impulse on my first two graphic novels, both in collaboration with Pablo G. Callejo, was to write best about what I knew best; the places I lived, the things I’ve done, the passions I’ve developed over the years. So writing Bluesman played to what I felt like were strengths in several ways.
First, I’m a guitar player. I appreciate that there are experiences that only an African-American can have and experience, thus de-legitimizing to a certain extent my ability to write his voice authentically. I know also that there are experiences common only to musicians that I have in common with people of every ethnicity, gender, age, and sexual or political persuasion who, like myself, all happen to be musicians.
Second, I have been an ardent listener and student of blues music since I was fifteen years old. I’ve seen and played a lot of shows, good and bad. I’ve listened to a lot of music. I’ve read a lot of books. For me, the blues is not a topic of research but a passion that has accrued into a rich body of information that was just waiting for me to draw upon it for the guts of a good graphic novel.
Last, and probably least convincingly, I’ve lived in Arkansas and felt comfortable about my ability to convey the dynamic changes in its landscape as Lem made his way across the state. People who have never been to New York might feel some comfort in staging a scene based on their vicarious knowledge of the place and its landmarks. Bluesman is set in places I’ve been, places I’ve felt under my feet. It makes a difference, I think.
So, coming back around to your question, I wrote what I thought I knew best and Bluesman was the result.
Here is a review from Comic Book Galaxy of the earlier multi volume paperback edition:
The historical fiction premise of Bluesman focuses on Lem Taylor and Ironwood Malcott, two African American musicians at the forefront of the American Blues movement of the 1920s. In many ways this story is a natural progression for this creative team (their first collaboration, The Castaways, was set during the Depression), whose love for this particular era of American history is obvious on each page. The lead characters are clearly based on some of the early blues masters – Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, etc – but are original and authentic at the same time. Vollmar writes natural-sounding dialogue, using language and terminology appropriate to the rural South of the 1920s and creating genuine voices for his two main protagonists. Pacing is also something Vollmar has a knack for, wisely breaking the narrative into four chapters, each prefaced by a gorgeous splash page. Callejo’s distinctive black and white artwork is richer and more detailed than in The Castaways. He also introduces some scratchboard pages to great effect. There had been a lot of buzz online leading up to the release of this first volume, but somehow Vollmar and Callejo still managed to exceed my expectations. This is an outstanding, unique story, crafted by an artist and a writer who are passionate about their subject matter and took the time to do extensive research in order to create a realistic period piece.