2017 is shaping up to be a good year for graphic biographies. First came Hamiltonian Joe Ollmann’s masterwork, The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, from Montreal’s Drawn and Quarterly.
Now, from the same publishing house, follows Peter Bagge’s Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story. It’s a fun and penetrating look at a fascinating figure from American history.
Bagge’s goal is to reclaim Hurston who, in her own words, sometimes felt “doomed to be forever misunderstood.” She was an individual at a time when women — especially those of colour — didn’t have many options in life. They were expected to get married off, which Hurston resisted.
And they certainly weren’t expected to become brilliant writers. Among Hurston’s work was the acclaimed Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was Bagge’s original inspiration.
Hurston believed in going her own way. The freedom to live life on her own terms was what she prized the most — she was as bold as the bright colours Bagge uses to illuminate her story.
As the pages go by, Hurston goes from being a young girl in Florida who doesn’t understand what a lynching is, to the toast of New York’s leftist community in the 1930s, a position she wasn’t comfortable with.
“All I ask of white is to get out of my way!” she insists as she matures, then winds up feeling betrayed by other blacks because she doesn’t toe the line, opposing forced integration at a time when it was the liberal orthodoxy.
If you’re in the mood for an illuminating look at a woman who defied categorization and her times, check out Fire!!