Graphic Novel Review: Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness

Graphic Novel Review: Johnny Cash: I See a DarknessJohnny Cash: I See a Darkness by Reinhard Kleist
Published by Harry N. Abrams on October 1, 2009
Genres: Biography
Pages: 224
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

The first and only illustrated biography of "The Man in Black", Johnny Cash, the most famous country singer of all time

Cash was a 17-time Grammy winner who sold more than 90 million albums in his lifetime and became an icon of American music in the 20th century. Graphic novelist Reinhard Kleist depicts Johnny Cash’s eventful life from his early sessions with Elvis Presley (1956), through the concert in Folsom Prison (1968), his spectacular comeback in the 1990s, and the final years before his death on September 12, 2003.

Already a bestseller and award-winner in Europe, Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness vividly portrays the unpredictable life of a loner, patriot, outlaw, and music rebel, making this unique biography a compelling read for multiple generations of graphic novel and music fans.

Although this biography of Johnny Cash is divided into three sections of years in Cash’s life, the graphic novel jumps in time. These jumps can be a bit confusing at times, but, by the end, I was able to put it all together. One of the really neat things Kleist did was to sometimes do a story within a story, where he would go into the plot of the songs for a couple of pages. I thought that was really unique and clever.

Certainly this graphic novel leaves a lot out, but I think Kleist did a great job capturing what Johnny Cash was like. Of course, I haven’t read anything about Johnny Cash before (I’ve only seen the movie Walk the Line). Still, based on all of the awards it raked in, I would imagine that it is true to the soul of the man.

The illustrations, while not my favorite type of art, fit the subject matter perfectly. Cash is a man of grizzled, rough features; of pain and darkness; of complexity. He could not be pictured in a pretty style; this gritty artwork does the job. The only place that I didn’t think it worked was in the brief section on his childhood. Kleist does not seem to be able to draw youthful people; everyone in the book looked at least 35, and a hard-living 35 at that.

Now I really want to go listen to some more Johnny Cash songs, as I have very few (and mostly just the super popular ones that he probably got really sick of). It’s amazing that he was able to recover from his addiction and escape the omnipresent darkness.

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