Friday, March 18, 2016

Booknote: Ghetto Klown

John Lequizamo, Ghetto Klown: a Graphic Novel. New York: AbramsComicArts, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4197-1518-1.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: autobiography, actors, writers, playwrights, adaptations
Format: Hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This is a brilliant and inspiring book. The book is a graphic novel adaptation of John Leguizamo's one-man autobiographical play of the same title, and it works great as a graphic novel. It is truly an example of how the graphic novel format can be used to tell great, moving, and at times very funny stories. In his preface to the book, Leguizamo tells us why the graphic novel format works so well to tell his story:

"Despite the various stage incarnations and the HBO television adaptation, the show seems best suited to the graphic-novel format, because it really needs to travel through a space-time continuum with fewer constraints than an in-person retelling. My story goes from me being a little kid all the way to a middle-aged man and jumps around to different states and countries, the action fast and very physical. You can travel to places visually with the graphic-novel medium that you can't achieve onstage, and experience inner states that even movies can't quite capture. This is the magic of putting pen to paper, and it's one of the most exciting ventures I've undertaken yet" (vi). 

Indeed the book is quite the adventure. Leguizamo rises from humble origins to be a solid writer, playwright, and stage actor. His great talent in time gets him work in film and television. But this is not just a story of  humble kid who does right. Leguizamo does have his issues, including bouts of depression and some self-destructing habits. Yet with pluck, hard work, and a little help from good people along the way, he manages to rise up. In this graphic novel, Leguizamo bares his soul, and we are all moved in the process, rooting for him to succeed. As he states at the opening of the story:

"I'm gonna give you a piece of my soul. And if you give me a piece of your soul, and we do this right, we'll have a soul exchange" 

And give us a piece of his soul he does as he tells his story in a direct, moving, often funny and at time dark narrative. Leguizamo is a great writer, and he pulls us in with his narrative. The book's pacing is fast and engaging. Once you pick it up, you'll keep reading until the end. The book is further enhanced by the great illustration work from Cassano and Beyale. Their black and white art bring the characters to life in a realistic way that captures the happenings and emotions the author captures in his writing. Leguizamo also comments on the art of the book in his preface:

"My work is evocative--through the power of suggestion-- and what you had to imagine before is now manifested. The illustrations really concretize my play, and it's no longer just a theatrical impression but a visual documentation of my life" (vii). 

I highly recommend this book, and I anticipate it will make my list of best books read in 2016. This is a book I would gladly add to my personal collection. It is an excellent acquisition for libraries. Do keep in mind that though it can be read by older teens, it does feature some adult situations. It is definitely a great read for adults. It is a candid, sincere work of redemption that must be read.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

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