Graphic Novels Tell the Story of David Bowie, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Jean-Michel Basquiat & Other Artists and Thinkers

If you’re fas­ci­nat­ed by cer­tain artists and thinkers, you can learn about them from books. Any­one who has a sig­nif­i­cant cul­tur­al or intel­lec­tu­al influ­ence on human­i­ty soon­er or lat­er gets a biog­ra­phy writ­ten about them, and usu­al­ly more than one. But how many get their own graph­ic nov­els? The ver­sa­til­i­ty of the “com­ic book,” long unsus­pect­ed by many West­ern read­ers, has been more and more wide­ly dis­cussed in recent decades. Some of those read­ers, how­ev­er, won’t believe what can be done with the form until they see what can be done with it. So why not show them the graph­ic nov­el on the life of David Bowie pub­lished not long ago — and if they remain uncon­vinced, why not show them the oth­er one?

Few sub­jects demand a visu­al form as much as Bowie, because of the cen­tral­i­ty of his ever-chang­ing appear­ance to his artis­tic project as well as the need to evoke the effer­ves­cent cul­tur­al peri­ods he lived through and did more than his part to define.

Hence the impor­tance of Michael Allred’s BOWIE: Star­dust, Ray­guns, & Moon­age Day­dreams and Nejib’s Had­don Hall as graph­ic-nov­el con­tri­bu­tions to the grow­ing field of Bowieol­o­gy. Com­ic artists and writ­ers have also done well by oth­er fig­ures with places in music his­to­ry: John Coltrane and Bil­lie Hol­l­i­day, for exam­ple, the sub­jects of Pao­lo Parisi’s Coltrane and Blues for Lady Day: The Sto­ry of Bil­lie Hol­i­day.

We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured both of those books here on Open Cul­ture, as well as Parisi’s Basquiat: A Graph­ic Nov­el. Con­vey­ing the life of a fel­low artist, even one who worked in a dif­fer­ent medi­um, pos­es a unique set of chal­lenges to the graph­ic nov­el­ist. But it’s one thing to depict the work of anoth­er, and some­thing else again to visu­al­ly reimag­ine it, as in BOOM! Stu­dios’ adap­ta­tion of Kurt Von­negut’s Slaugh­ter­house-Five, a nov­el involv­ing not a few bio­graph­i­cal ele­ments in the first place. Oth­er respect­ed works of lit­er­a­ture late­ly to under­go graph­ic nov­el­iza­tion include James Joyce’s Ulysses in Rob Berry’s Ulysses Seen, and the “weird fic­tion” of H.P. Love­craft in the equal­ly weird Love­craft Anthol­o­gy.

You can also read a graph­ic-nov­el adap­ta­tion of a source work nev­er com­plet­ed in the first place — but nev­er com­plet­ed, one must note, by Sal­vador Dalí and the Marx Broth­ers. A col­lab­o­ra­tion between pop-cul­ture schol­ar Josh Frank, artist Manuela Perte­ga, and come­di­an Tim Hei­deck­er, Giraffes on Horse­back Sal­ad real­izes on the page a film that not only was nev­er, but quite pos­si­bly could nev­er have been made. For read­ers clos­er to world­ly real­i­ty, there’s Jim Otta­viani and Leland Myrick­’s Feyn­man: A Biog­ra­phy, which tells and shows the life of world-famous the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist, teacher, and bon vivant Richard Feyn­man. Nev­er before, sure­ly, has a com­ic book had to leg­i­bly and con­vinc­ing­ly depict quan­tum elec­tro­dy­nam­ics, safe-crack­ing, and bon­go-pay­ing — to name just three of Feyn­man’s pur­suits.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load Theft! A His­to­ry of Music, a New Free Graph­ic Nov­el Explor­ing 2,000 Years of Musi­cal Bor­row­ing

Bound by Law?: Free Com­ic Book Explains How Copy­right Com­pli­cates Art

iTunes Terms & Con­di­tions Adapt­ed into a Graph­ic Nov­el: Read It Free Online

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graph­ic Nov­el Adap­ta­tion

Read the Entire Com­ic Book Adap­ta­tion of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

A Com­ic Book Adap­ta­tion of Edgar Allan Poe’s Poignant Poem, “Annabel Lee”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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