Monday, June 16, 2008

Vacation Guestblogstravaganza! Caleb Mozzocco rhapsodizes bohemianly

Caleb takes care of his own introduction, so I'll just turn things over to him:

Freddie, Mike & Me

Hiya there, Warren Peace Sings the Blues readers! This is Caleb Mozzocco of Every Day Is Like Wednesday, not Matthew J. Brady. You see, Matt lost his blog to me in a poker game, so from now on, Warren Peace Sings the Blues is going to be nothing more than EDILW II.

No actually, as Matt no doubt explained already, he's going on vacation, and didn't want to leave his blog fallow, so invited some other folks to contribute while he's taking it easy. He got me to do
so simply by flattering me, and telling me I was one of his favorite comics bloggers (Now that I think about it, that actually makes me call into question all of his comics criticism; I thought he had pretty decent taste in comics, but man, if he actually thinks EDILW is a good blog, well then, maybe I have to reevaluate my esteem of his opinion).

Anyway, after I agreed to contribute a review of some sort, I wasn't quite sure how to proceed. Should I write a post of the sort that Matt himself might write, like a review of some manga series intended for little Japanese girls? Should I write the sort that I would usually do at Every Day Is Like Wednesday, like 4,000 words about why Martian Manhunter's costuming choices? Or should I mix the two approaches, and write a post about whether Nana Komatsu or Nana Osaki would be a better girlfriend for Dick Grayson?

Well, I've opted to a pretty straight review of a new graphic novel, one that's black and white and mostly set in another country, like manga, but deals with the subject of hero worship, like superhero comics.

Freddie & Me: A Coming-Of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody
By Mike Dawson



You might not recognize Mike Dawson's name, but you'll probably recognize his art—he's had pieces in several rather high-profile anthologies, like Alternative Comics' True Porn 2 and AdHouse's Project: Superior. At least, I didn't recognize his name, but did recognize his art, and looking at his website just now, I see he's also worked on a book called Gabagool!.

His new(-ish) book is Freddie & Me: A Coming-Of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody, and its title and cover seem to imply that its about a life of Queen fandom. Which, of course, it sort of is, but Queen fandom is more of a hook than the actual subject matter.

This is yet another cartoonist autobiography in graphic novel format (can we call them graphic autobiographies? Or graphic memoirs?), an understandably hot genre in the publishing industry (both prose memoirs in general and graphic novels in general have been on the ascendancy for a while) that has seen a great deal of mainstream success these past few years.

Beyond the acceptance of the current book market, there's a good creative reason for the deluge of such books, however, a reason that Dawson himself says in his book, he believes "comics are especially well suited to autobiography."

I would definitely agree with that, and its something Dawson repeatedly demonstrates. This is essentially his own life's story up until the point that this book was published, and it just so happens that Queen figures quite prominently into many of the milestone moments of his life: the earliest memories of his family, his angstier teenage moments, the maturation of his relationship with his sister, the mourning of his grandmother, his thoughts on fame, success and
mortality.

While the bulk of the book deals with his own life story in more or less linear fashion, he diverges from it a few times for a fantasized history of Wham! (his little sister loved Wham! as much as he loved Queen, to the point that they argued over whether the family cat should be named Queenie or Whammy):



And, in some of the narrative's more insightful passages, to talk about the nature of memory itself:



Here's where Dawson's assertion about the power of the medium is especially astute. Because memory is so visual, comics provide the sort of immediacy that prose can't…or at least most prose can't. The very best prose writers can make a reader see things almost as if they were looking at pictures, whereas even the worst comics artist can create visual images with which to confront the reader.

Additionally, it allows Dawson to capture himself, his friends and his families at different periods of their lives, really underscoring the wince-inducing nature of many of his memories, particularly in the passages about his youth and high school. Hearing him describe the
embarrassment he feels over certain aspects just isn't as powerful as seeing the big-nosed, huge-headed, goon-ish looking teen Dawson with his hair combed over his left eyes, wearing braces and a top hat, you know?



His life story isn't quite so dramatic or tied into major hot-button issues the way Marjane Satrapi's or Alison Bechdel's were. He, his little sister, and his older brother grew up with their parents in England, and then moved to the United States in grade school (his older brother
staying behind for a while). In high school, he became very interested in music, art and girls. He went to college. He got a job. He met a woman and married her. Pretty basic stuff, but no less dramatic because of it (It's certainly easy to relate to).

Throughout it all, there's Queen and Freddie Mercury, a constant touchstone for Dawson's mental life, the story he tells himself of himself, in the phraseology he hears in a discussion about
self on the radio while drawing comics one day.

Queen figures most prominently in the most amusing parts of the narrative—Dawsons' boyhood fantasy of meeting them backstage before a show,
his drawings of his own music videos, his fantasies of singing in the high school lunch room, a comic book adaptation of "Bohemian Rhapsody"—essentially providing context and color to the various rites of passages in his young life.



The very same way that anything that particularly dedicated fans of particular things that people are fans of—music, sports, comics—provide context and color to their own lives. Even lacking a deep knowledge or above-average affection for Queen (prior to read this, I could have counted the Queen songs I knew on one hand), I understood the experience of being a fan Dawson so beautifully communicates.



Now I think I'm going to get off Matt's blog and head to the library to look for some Queen albums. Dawson's sold me on the fact that maybe I ought to listen to some more, if only to see why he loves them so much.

If you'd like to see some of Freddie & Me, Publisher's Weekly has a ten-page preview here,
and Dawson's own site has a 12-page preview here.