The Scotland Herald reviews King of King Court and Hot Comb

“Graphic Content: American childhoods, righteous anger and civil war in Sri Lanka; the latest graphic memoirs” / The Scotland Herald / Teddy Jamieson / September 9, 2019

SO many ways to tell. Over the last few days I’ve been reading a range of new graphic memoirs that show just how vibrant and diverse those ways can be; both in form - everything from scratchy pen to collage and painting – and content – ranging from straight reportage to fable, from family memoirs to sexual violence and civil war.

All of them in their own way are seeking to pin personal experience to the page, render it visible, comprehensible. They are repositories of memory, explorations – investigations, even - of personal stories, and, on occasion, acts of witness.

Let’s start with Travis Dandro’s King of King Court (Drawn and Quarterly). This is a brick of a book, filled with scratchily intimate, closely drawn imagery (you do worry for the cartoonist’s eyes at points).

King of King Court offers a double time frame; the cartoonist as a young kid in 1980, and the cartoonist as a teenager 10 years later. In both he is dealing with a mother who is unhappy with and ultimately separated from his stepdad, while still attracted to Dandro’s father, who in turn lifts weights, steals money and ultimately has issues with drugs and violence. It is a book about how decisions taken by your parents impact on the life you find yourself leading.

It’s also a book that grows on you. At first, I was a little irritated by the way Dandro shifted from a child’s eye view to an adult’s in the early part of the book. Partly that was because he was so good at the former and I thought he could have used it to frame the latter too. Because at its best the book catches that sense of childish close attention; to the landscape, to the animals that surround us and to the emotional weather that the boy he was doesn’t really understand.

But as we move into the 1990s section what is striking is how Dandro continually deepens and complicates our understanding of the lives we are being shown. He manages to offer empathy to all the people in his life, even the ones he hates.

There are moments of high tension, melodrama even. But some lives are melodramatic. Dandro knows this.

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Not that all graphic memoirs need to wear their Sunday best, though. Hot Comb, by Ebony Flowers, is a thing of wobbly lines and cartoonish exaggeration that still offers a fresh, punchy insight into the everyday lives of African-American girls and women. It’s about black hair and black music and black identity. Or race, class and perms.

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