Bluesman is the story of Lem Taylor, a blues musician in the 1930s who is accused of murder and hotly pursued by both the sheriff and by people seeking vengeance for the murder. Book three concludes the story in a spectacular, almost apocalyptic way, and offers readers a haunting coda as well.
Rob Colmar and Pablo Vallejo’s story is thoughtful and passionate, based on real-seeming characters and situations that seem familiar but fresh at the same time. Taylor seems a complex character. He’s an intelligent, thoughtful man, a man of real depth and feeling who at one point chooses to be true to the humanity inside him rather than take the easy way out. It’s also implied that there’s something deeper in Taylor’s soul, a strength that is connected to the world around him.
Nature has a complex and interesting role to play in this story. The forces of nature seem to comment on and deepen the story in a real primal way. As Taylor is being taken to jail, torrential rains pour down, flash floods roll, and lightning is an ever-present danger. All of this makes Taylor’s story feel more intense, almost apocalyptic, as if the bluesman is so tied to the forces of nature that even Mother Nature herself considers him to be important. In perhaps the most spectacular scene in the book, a twister rolls in as Taylor and the sheriff talk, leading to an amazing and haunting finale and epilogue.
Pablo Callejo’s art has an interesting woodcut style that’s an ideal match for the story. Callejo’s art is suffused with black, using dramatic contrasts to help intensify the story. For instance, there’s a scene with a car crash in which the car almost seems to hurtle off the printed page. The dramatic full-page illustration of the twister approaching Taylor also shows Callejo’s masterful use of blacks, as the scene almost seems to explode from the page.
I haven’t read the previous two volumes of this series but I had no trouble picking up the story as it started here. Far from it, in fact: somehow, by starting the story with the pursuit of Taylor, the story has an immense sort of immediacy and power. The setup for this story is so clear – a man falsely accused for a crime – that I was immediately tugged into the story and hit the ground running.
Bluesman is a terrific graphic novel. It’s powerful and exciting and thoughtful, and the ending adds a little touch of magic to the story.