NBM Graphic Novels 2019
Multifaceted portrait of reggae’s paragon – painted vividly to be etched deep in reader’s memory.
Bob Marley’s life was illustrious and colorful – there were many more colors to it than red, gold and green – and it deserved a visual account more than many a musician’s biography: an evocative tale that, unlike a film, could exist without sound while staying true to the spirit of reggae, so comics can be a perfect medium for his story. The veteran publisher of graphic novels, NBM may have done a valiant job delivering volumes on the Fab Four and Billie Holiday, but those didn’t come burdened as much by either sociopolitical agenda or contrast between rapture and despair, which makes both creating and devouring this tome a challenge. Rising to such a challenge – and elevating the reader along the way – is no mean feat, and the original approach applied to the book facilitates the process and adds a wide spectrum of moods to it.
Various aspects of Marley’s ascent to glory are illustrated by different styles used in the comics, where each chapter is given to a new artist. Tanguy Pietri’s dark tones reflect the ghetto gloom, and Ammo’s black-and-white drawings outline the stark existence in Trench Town – as opposed to Matthieu Beaulieu’s bright paints stressing the appeal of sound systems, and Sarah Williamson’s saturated hues shining a light on the musicians’ serene pastime on Chris Blackwell’s villa. Elsewhere, Jena’s pastel images express Bob and Rita’s blooming love, and Clément Baloup’s documentary-like pictures report the singer’s part in the One Love Peace Concert, where he joined the hands of Edward Seaga and Michael Manley. The rendering of THE WAILERS’ plights and delights by Domas and Simon Léturgie is purely cartoonish yet, looking equally alluring, Efix’s monochrome, with a sprinkling of sepia, piece on Rastafarianism is the most enlightening of all, so Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie appear here as well.
The names of politicians, players, producers and records titles are scattered across the book that’s as educational – especially when, every now and again, a single-spread chapter sums up and fleshes out the information from a previous one – as it is entertaining, so there are more purposes to the graphic type of storytelling than plain charting of Bob’s biography. This reviewer’s 13-years-old son couldn’t resist delving into the comics and ended up not only eager to listen to Marley’s music, which he had heard only episodically, but also asking questions about Jamaican politics. A curio, or collector’s item, for adult reader – who doesn’t mind seeing a few instances of “shit” peppering the pages – turned into an instantly memorable knowledge base for a teenager. Only one doesn’t have to be young and alien to reggae to enjoy the tome. It’s a truly riveting read.