A few weeks ago, Fantagraphics released King The Special Edition, a graphic novel biography of Martin Luther King, written and drawn by Ho Che Anderson. King was originally released as three trade paperbacks, which Ho Che Anderson had worked on from 1991 through 2002. King The Special Edition is very much like a directors cut of a great movie, as it contains commentary by Anderson on the long road he'd taken to finish King, as well as presenting a sketchbook section and a couple of short stories that Anderson wrote and drew before undertaking his Martin Luther King biography.
Being as Martin Luther King was the engine of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's and such a charismatic figure, it would be hard for any biography of him and what he accomplished, to be anything short of a great narrative. Reading King The Special Edition (of which the biography narrative is 240 pages out of this edition's 300 pages), is much like reading a rich novel, as Ho Che Anderson doesn't just go through the motions of Martin Luther King's history and the U.S's history during the Civil Rights Movement, rather his King unfolds with the reader becoming immersed in every facet of Martin Luther's life (especially during the 1960's) and what black people had to endure before and during this tumultuous period. Anderson doesn't sugarcoat what happened or aspects of Martin Luther King's life and thus King is the most engaging account of Martin Luther King's life that I have experienced. King ends, as Martin Luther King's life did, just as the promise of what he (and so many others) worked towards was beginning to be realized, but as history was and is still unfolding, huge steps towards equality for all is happening, much work in that arena still needs to be completed.
Ho Che Anderson lists Howard Chaykin (American Flagg) as a major influence on him as an artist, but Anderson has taken Chayin's visual and narrative style and created his own extension of that artistic style. Anderson, as he recounts in his commentary afterward, started King when he was twenty-two years old and didn't complete King until he was thirty-three years old. During these long years, Anderson did a massive amount of research, which actually didn't help him complete King faster, instead his research slowed him down and that, in addition to his own life "getting in the way" (my words), and he almost had someone else complete the art portion of the latter parts of his Martin Luther King biography. Fortunately, Ho Che Anderson found his muse within himself and completed the entirety of King himself so that connoisseurs of great sequential art biographical works now have King The Special Edition, as the excellent record of Martin Luther King's life that it is.
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