Thursday, May 23, 2013

Graphic By Nature

This is the place for graphic novel reviews, but you won't find any traditional superheroes here. If you're like me, you enjoy your comics funny, strange, and sometimes a little dark. But you also value an interesting story and captivating illustration. Sounds like you? Check out the review below.

Reviewing Capote in Kansas provided a great excuse to read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood: A True Account of Multiple Murder and Its Consequences. I'd heard of it, but never read it; one of those famous novels that sits in a toppling pile of to-read books. In Cold Blood was artfully crafted -- each line written with care. It's a rare novel that, for an avid reader, compels you to read and savor every word. In Cold Blood was emotional, telling the human stories of the victims, the townspeople, and the killers. Capote created a "non-fiction" novel; a retelling of the murder of the Clutter family, the investigation into their death, and the capture of their killers. Instead of the novel reading like a dry crime procedural, Capote turned the story into the page-turning classic it is today. If you haven't read it yet, I recommend stopping what you're doing and picking up a copy. Borrow it, buy it -- it doesn't matter. Just be sure to read it.

Photo courtesy of
After finishing In Cold Blood, I got to work reading Capote in Kansas -- written by Andre Parks and illustrated by Chris Samnee. The strength of this graphic novel comes from the talent of Chris Samnee. His use of fine lines to capture detail is stunning. But he also knows when to use simplicity in panels to tell the story. He knows when to draw in the fine lines, when to leave them out, and when to ink with solid black. There are many panels where detail is drawn into the background with the characters in the foreground, quiet and without facial details -- I found these to be some of the best and most impactful. Samnee is an expert in the use of light and dark to portray mood and feeling. He draws the characters close up -- an intimacy is created between the reader and the characters, especially Truman Capote.

I came to Capote in Kansas looking for hints of the compelling story that I discovered while reading In Cold Blood, but I didn't find them. 

Where the artwork of Capote in Kansas is it's highlight, the writing is its downfall. Andre Parks admits to using the basic time and structure as the skeleton of his story and building the rest with fiction. The story, as the title suggests, focuses on Truman Capote as he researches, writes, and publishes In Cold Blood. He arrives in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas with his snotty New York attitude, disappointed when the town can't offer him the comforts he is used to. The story follows his struggles to connect with the locals, the problems it causes in researching the story, the haunting of Nancy Clutter, and his troubles in maintaining his long-term, long-distance relationship with his partner. The story is superficial and awkward at times, especially in dealing with Capote's love life and sexuality. There is a scene where Capote is waiting with Perry, one of the two men convicted of the Clutter murders, before he is taken to the gallows. As they're waiting, Capote kisses Perry. It felt like the author was using Capote's sexuality as a gimmick, assuming it was the logical extension of Truman Capote's real life compassion for Perry. It's a shame because as you read the original novel, it's hard not to share some of that same compassion for him as well. The characters in Capote in Kansas aren't well developed and Capote's relationship with each of them barely delves beneath the surface enough to make emotional scenes work.

Capote in Kansas doesn't stand on its own, either. You have to have read In Cold Blood to understand the basic story at work in the graphic novel. There are too many pages without words, while well-drawn and compelling, that make it difficult to understand the context. Coupled with a weak storyline and the semi-development of only one character, Capote, the graphic novel doesn't leave a lasting impression.

For many, the story of Truman Capote and the story of In Cold Blood are inextricably linked. Looking back, one sees Capote's research and writing of his most successful book as colliding with his downfall -- he never published another novel. He frequented the talk show circuit, struggled with depression and alcoholism, and died from liver cancer in 1984. This linkage has created an obsession in America: there is a black and white adaptation of the film by Richard Brooks, In Cold Blood (nominated for an Academy Award). Capote and Infamous focus on the author and his relationship to the Clutter murders as he researches and writes his novel. There was a TV miniseries created in the mid-1990's featuring Anthony Edwards and Eric Roberts based on the book. There are many, many books devoted to the subject such as Capote by Gerald Clarke, George Plimpton's Truman Capote, and Capote in Kansas: A Ghost Story by Kim Powers. At the time of this review, there is only one graphic novel version related to the story of Truman Capote and In Cold Blood. I would suggest choosing from one of the many other, expertly created interpretations available if you're looking to satisfy your curiosity about Truman Capote that was inevitably invoked by reading In Cold Blood.


For many, this graphic novel belongs in the donation box. But for graphic novel lovers, it might be worth putting in the library bag -- flipping through Samnee's beautifully drawn panels is a treat.

*A digital copy of this graphic novel was provided by

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