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Booth

Posted: Wednesday, September 8, 2010
By: Jason Sacks

C.C. Colbert
Tanitoc
First Second
I wish that I'd enjoyed this book more than I did.

I'm pretty fascinated by the story of John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln's assassin. In large part, my fascination is due to Booth being different from most of his infamous brethren. He doesn't really fit the profile we all have of a political assassin. For instance, he was not a loner or outsider; instead, Booth was a popular actor--so popular, in fact, that he was often seen in his day as perhaps the best actor of his generation. He also came from a warm and happy family, and he had a reasonable amount of money in the bank.

So what caused a man like Booth to decide to assassinate President Lincoln? Does his motivation come from the intense cataclysm of the Civil War? Was the assassination politically motivated, or was there a girl at the center of everything?

These questions have the makings of a really interesting story, which made me excited to read Booth, from First Second Press. Unfortunately, although this book provides answers to many of these questions, it misses the more important aspect of historical fiction: the creators don't present those answers in compelling ways.

Much of Booth's life around the time of the assassination is chronicled in this graphic novel. Readers do learn a lot about Booth's family life, his love of the Confederacy, and his being snubbed by a pretty girl in favor of a member of Lincoln's family. All of the events that we might expect in a book like this are presented.

The problem is that the events are presented in a diffuse, subjective and off-putting manner that distanced me from the book. We never really get under the skin of Booth or any of the other people presented in this book. We see what events Booth reacts to, but we never get a sense of why he reacts as he does--of why he committed this historical act that still resonates 145 years after it happened. We see a lot of what but not a lot of why.

Much of my frustration comes from the art by Tanitoc, who is described in his bio as a master cartoonist and lecturer on comics theory and practice. I'm sure that Tanitoc is a fine teacher, but his work on this book robbed me of my enthusiasm for the subject matter. The artistís loose and sketchy style was ill-suited for a story that depends so much on revealing depictions of human faces and complex events.

Under Tanitoc's pen, many of the characters look very much like each other; worse, their looks are indistinct and generic. Characters are differentiated by their hairstyle or facial hair, but none of the people in this comic have unique body language or other personal characteristics.

What's more, Tanitoc seems to be infatuated with having his art not fully show the story's events inside the panels. Scene after scene of high drama happens just slightly off-panel and just a bit out of the reader's view, which makes it very difficult to follow the flow of the story--robbing the tale of so much of its drama. Even the assassination of Lincoln and Booth's subsequent escape from Ford's Theatre are presented in a way that removes the drama from the scenes

It doesn't help that while C.C. Colbert is an experienced writer this is his first graphic novel. He simply doesn't have the tools necessary to know how to work against Tanitoc's weaknesses and add drama to the scenes that are presented. As with the art, the story seems to be written in a way that removes the drama of the events--which would seems to be impossible given the incredible drama of those historical events.

This book is somewhat professionally done, but simply didn't shed much light on the very interesting life of the notorious John Wilkes Booth. Booth is a real disappointment.



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