ME AND THE DEVIL BLUES: THE UNREAL LIFE OF ROBERT JOHNSON • Akira Hiramoto • Del Rey • 2 volumes • 18+
Very loosely inspired by the legend of mysterious blues musician Robert Johnson (1911-1938), Me and the Devil Blues is an American Gothic horror tale, a nightmarish vision of the American South at its worst, not unlike Garth Ennis’ comic book series Preacher. Robert (“R.J.”) is a young black plantation hand haunted by booze and vice, who dreams of leaving his wretched life and becoming a great bluesman. One day he makes a deal with the devil at the crossroads—or does he?—and discovers that his hand has grown a few extra fingers, turning it into a mutated, devil-possessed appendage capable of playing wonderful, eerie music. Leaving town with his awful “gift,” he runs into white outlaw gunman Clyde Barrow (of Bonnie & Clyde fame), and the two outsiders’ paths take them unwittingly to an outwardly placid small town run by the depraved racist Stanley McDonald, who rules the town with an iron fist and sets up the innocent R.J. to be lynched. Injustice and racism is a persistent theme (“The white folks…they don’t even see us as human”), but the mood is of action-horror, not history, with Hiramoto using distorted perspective, heavy use of black spaces and fish-eye lenses to show us leering faces, knives, guns and bulging eyes emerging from the darkness. The art is great, and rather Western in terms of character design, but unfortunately the story starts to drag on after awhile. R.J. in particular turns out to be a disappointingly weak central character, a perpetual victim whose predominant emotions are bewilderment and terror and who spends literally half the story in a prison cell being repeatedly beaten by racist rednecks. The passive protagonist and depressing narrative, coupled with a weak non-ending (despite the “to be continued” notes at the end of Del Rey’s volume 2, Japanese sources suggest that really is the end), make for a disappointing narrative, although the art is chilling and lovely and it has many fine page-turner sequences.
** (two stars)
Today’s winner is Christy Lijewski! It’s not often that we get graphic novel artists as contest winners, but Christy is none other than the creator of the manga “RE:Play” and “Next Exit”. Congratulations, Christy! For more information, check out her deviantart page!
Chelsea J. sent this photo of herself enjoying volumes 1-5 of Shugo Chara! I hope you liked them, Chelsea! We’ll send you more manga ASAP!