King of King Court is the story of a young boy who is introduced to his birth father when he's six. This father, "Dad Dave," is an iconic tough guy—sunglasses, mustache, cigarettes. He's also hiding an addiction to pills and a deep wound from his brother's suicide. As the father's addiction takes over and his behaviour becomes more erratic, we see the boy, young Travis, struggle to understand his love for and fear of this man.
After editing comics for so many years, I feel like I generally know what I'm going to get with a certain author or book. I end up reading the book several times before it even gets sent to the printer and while there's always room for surprises or details to be found later, I usually understand the book before you even hear about it.
King of King Court was not like this at all. Travis sent me an early draft a few years ago now and I was unsure. His approach is different than the style of the time but the subject matter and my past relationship (I published him all the way back in Coober Skeber #1) made me pause and wait to see what happened. Eventually, the book came together, changes were made, pages finished. And I sat down to read the complete book yet again this time as the final version that is in stores today.
I was shocked!! It's fair to say that there're many "trauma memoirs" in comics and literature. Some of the biggest sellers of all time are personal stories of suffering or overcoming adversity. But it's an easy genre to fail at—too many unnecessary details or obvious revelations or just overwrought prose. It's takes a certain amount of self-awareness and distance and empathy to make a successful memoir. And this is where King of King Court succeeds. Travis details his young life with enough distance to be able to balance the horror and the joy. He shows empathy for the adults (as he wrote this book he was older than the adults were in the story). His cartooning is emotional, as emotional as anything I've ever read. The emotionality reminds me of one of my favourite comics of all time, Seiichi Hayashi's Red Colored Elegy. Melodrama is mixed with more pastoral sequences. There's a minimalism to the storytelling that catches you off-guard. It sneaks up on you and then breaks your heart. You feel his fear and his delight and you are immersed in his reveries.
I'm pretty happy I was able to get this book into the hands of some truly talented writers in advance and want to share their thoughts with you here. And if you're wondering if it's suitable for teens, I would say my fourteen year old was more than ready for this book. The subject matter is harsh (drug addiction, physical abuse, suicide) but she understood the context. Remember this book is in stores now!
The straightforward narrative and deceptively simple drawings lend to Travis Dandro's memoir great tension and superb emotional power. King of King Court brims with equal parts existential terror and profound, complex love."—Lauren Groff, author of Florida
"King of King Court is engrossing. Travis Dandro has the rare ability to look back at his childhood with eyes wide open—not only the hardships, but just as crucially, the moments of humor and goodness. The book almost seems to be written and drawn by a precocious little kid with the supernatural ability to see and hear everything. Visceral, idiosyncratic, funny, terrifying. It's really remarkable."—Nick Drnaso, cartoonist of Sabrina
"Beautifully constructed story that greets tragedy and pain head on and offers a way out. We can create our own stories. We don't have to remain in the stories of others. Well done, Travis Dandro!"— Deborah Ellis, author of Looking for X and The Breadwinner