Biographies in Graphic Novel Form

In these graphic biographies, the life of legendary Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz is depicted in the form of a newspaper comic strip, and the career of Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee is plotted through a succession of tightly crafted scenes, none more than a single page long.

Debus, Luca & Francesco Matteuzzi. Funny Things: A Comic Strip Biography of Charles M. Schulz. Top Shelf. Aug. 2023. 440p. ISBN 9781603095266. $39.99. BIOG
The life and times of one of the most beloved and influential artists of the 20th century are revealed in this biography from Debus (The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comic Strip for Serious People) and Matteuzzi (Banksy: A Graphic Novel). Rather than rendering their subject’s life in a straightforward graphic novel narrative form, the creators present Schulz’s story in the format of a daily newspaper comic strip, with six black and white strips consisting of four or five panels in between full-page, four-color “Sunday” spreads. As readers follow Schulz’s development from a lonesome, introverted child who fantasizes about one day becoming a successful cartoonist, to eventually achieving undreamed of success as the creator of the internationally beloved Peanuts characters, the format masterfully emphasizes the deeply personal quality of Schulz’s work. Schulz’s father was a barber, just as Charlie Brown’s is; his childhood pet was an idiosyncratic beagle; he really did pine for a little red-haired girl. More interesting, though, is the revelation that Schulz used Charlie Brown to express his own sense of inadequacy, timidity, and frustrated inability to go along as one of the crowd. VERDICT An insightful and affectionate biography of an iconic American artist.

Scioli, Tom. I Am Stan: A Graphic Biography of the Legendary Stan Lee. Ten Speed: Crown. Sept. 2023. 208p. ISBN 9781984862020. $28.99. BIOG
Biographies of Stan Lee tend to fall into two categories: fawning tributes that portray him as a visionary genius whose work is only comparable to the great epics of antiquity, or searing excoriations accusing him of being a craven, cold-hearted hack whose only joy in life came from denying others credit for their work. How refreshing, then, to discover that Scioli’s follow-up to Jack Kirby: The Epic Life of the King of Comics avoids reducing Lee to a one-dimensional caricature by deliberately highlighting his mercurial nature. Through a succession of tightly crafted scenes, none more than a single page long, Scioli depicts Lee as driven by a pure desire to create meaningful art yet totally obsessed with increasing profits; sincerely dedicated to building Marvel Comics into a worldwide success while eagerly pursuing opportunities to leave the company behind; capable of lavishing his collaborators with praise while also downplaying their contributions to the work they created together; and as complicated and sometimes frustratingly contradictory, but ultimately not more so than most people are. VERDICT Scioli has created the most compelling and layered portrait of Lee to date. A brilliant achievement.

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