Johnny Cash: I See A Darkness Review: Walking the COmic Line
Some of the biggest problems with writing a biography in comic form are that these tend to either be boring or really weird. How does one write a biographical comic without making it boring or trying something bizarre that makes the reader question the writer’s sanity? One of the most reason examples is ‘Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness” which, according to the back blurb, has won a Max and Moritz Award for Best Graphic Novel and a Sondermann Award for Best National Production. With two awards this comic has to good, right?
‘I See A Darkness” is about Johnny Cash’s life from his time as a kid in Arkansas up until his second concert in Folsom Prison. What’s odd about this comic is that it’s told by a Folsom inmate and huge fan Glen Shirley. Ironically, Cash was once a Folsom inmate and was notorious for being a bit rowdy. It works pretty well in that we get a Cash that is wild and addicted to “bennies,” and makes a hole in a hotel room so he can be closer to his bandmates and essentially does this his own way, middle finger and all.
One thing this comic does that may confuse some readers is that it does literal retellings of some of Cash’s songs as he is playing. Some examples are at the begging there’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues” where we see a man literally shoot a man in Reno “just to watch him die.” There’s even one for ‘A Boy Named Sue” where we see the entire song played out word for word. The purpose of these little vignettes are, as the comic says, that Cash fancied himself a storyteller, thus make these songs into comic stories. They’re actually very brilliant and delve into Cash’s personality more.
Artwork is done in all pencil and black and white. It’s a little heavy on the dark colors, going a little too literal on the whole “Man in Black” thing. It does work for telling Cash’s story in that some people think Cash was a simple man, thus keep things simple and all that.
What doesn’t work is that some of the more famous people that Cash met in his life, like Elvis, simply don’t look good and the reader won’t recognize them at first. It’s a flaw.
The “Cash Gallery” at the end of the comic has ten pencil drawings that look good enough to blow up and make into full size posters. Having a pencil version of Cash’s infamous “flipping the bird” photo would’ve made this gallery even better.
“Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness” is a solid biography comic with a clever story telling angle and simple art. The typical Cash fan may not read comics, but this one should be an exception the rule. The Man in Black would’ve liked this if he were still around today.
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