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King: A Graphic Novel

06 Mar 2007

"King" by Canadian graphic novelist Ho Che Anderson, is a unique biography about civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr.

King is boldly told in the graphic novel format ("comic book" to the uninformed), which may draw initial pause from some readers, and that''s a shame.   While widely respected in other cultures (most notably Japan), the graphic novel is seen as a format primarily for children in North America - sad considering the medium''s ability to tell interesting and unique stories for adults.  Books such as Watchmen, 100 Bullets and Preacher are examples of excellent material written for adults.

There are many things to like about King.  The dialogue is strong, and gives the reader a sense of being present for conversations that took place during key moments of the civil rights movement.

Anderson dramatizes instances in Dr. King''s life, including interactions with his inner circle and family, in order to add texture to familiar historical events.  It''s a form of historical fiction that Anderson weaves seamlessly into the story.

He also uses this technique to incorporate interviews of average people into the book, who comment on how Dr. King''s actions were perceived at the time.

Anderson ''s black and white art is striking, abstract and makes excellent use of shadows to convey mood and tone while occasional splashes of colour emphasize dramatic events.  Several panels in King are so well done that they should be displayed as paintings.

In spite of King''s beautiful visuals, the actual storytelling was not as strong as I would have liked.  I wasn''t able to get a sense of the developing story through the visuals, which caused the story to lack a sense of momentum.   As a result, King depended heavily on dialogue to advance its story and left me feeling in some instances that it may have worked better as a traditional novel rather than a graphic one.

Anderson presents snippets of Dr. King''s family life, back room negotiations, and touches on his alleged infidelity- but I would have liked to have seen more impressions of Dr. King through a deeper focus on the personal elements of his life.  I think it''s important that a biography teaches the reader something new about its subject or presents them in a way that gives the reader a different perspective.  King didn''t do either for me.  Admittedly, this is difficult considering that the spectre of Martin Luther King Jr. looms so large in history.

Originally published in three parts over the course of 10 years, King is a worthwhile read, but perhaps because of the way it was written, the story felt uneven.   King was obviously a labour of love and the research that Anderson put into this book is impressive, but the storytelling struck me as being too straightforward with too few revelations.  Still, King is a good starting point for those who don''t know much about Dr. King and want to learn more.

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