Review - James Brown Black and Proud (@IDWPublishing)

"I'd rather be a king in hell, than a slave in heaven."

The legend of James Brown the musician is on par with that of James Brown the person. In James Brown Black and Proud HC from IDW Publishing, just about the entirety of his life is on display for readers to digest. The book is written and illustrated by Xavier Fauthoux and lettered by Frank Cvetkovic.

Born in the South during the height of segregation, James Brown went on to become a global sensation, using his immeasurable talent to grasp what he believed was the American Dream. Join the charismatic, hard-working, and sometimes tyrannical bandleader on a journey down the roads of America with a group of talented musicians spreading the sound of funk and soul throughout the country. Told against the backdrop of a changing America during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, this is the story of a man and his band that would go on to revolutionize the world of pop music.

Fauthoux realizes there's a lot to James Brown's life and he does his best to hit it all in the hardcover biography. The first half is written in more of a comic book form as Fauthoux relies on dialogue amongst characters as a means of showcasing various events in Brown's life; the second half of the issue snowballs in a way, in that Fauthoux uses a lot more narration in order to chronicle the events later in his life. What Fauthoux probably does best though is juxtaposing Brown's life against the eras in which he lived--primarily, going through both segregation and desegregation. America is still a very young country with a lot of open wounds, all of which were heavily on display throughout the life of James Brown and required another level of patience and fortitude to persevere for him to succeed as he did. Brown was also a notoriously hard-working performer, demanding the best from those around him--costing him multiple relationships throughout his life and career--and Fauthoux also does a great job of showcasing that aspect of his personality as well.

Fauthoux illustrates the book with a soft approach, choosing to render the characters with wispy lines. Seeing James Brown go from childhood to adulthood is sobering to an extent, primarily because the James Brown most people will remember is the one performing on stage with the cape and covered in sweat. The panels are generally pretty tidy with black gutters, but there's one page in particular where a young James Brown was in jail and Fauthoux blends the bars into the gutters seamlessly. Most of the pages really just show off James Brown in various states of performance surrounded by narration boxes. The entire book is colored in a way that feels dusty and old, reinforcing the environment where James Brown grew up more than anything.

James Brown Black and Proud HC is a pretty dense look at James Brown's life. James Brown was a man who faced his share of adversity in all facets of his life, yet still he managed to overcome them and become supremely successful. The script by Fauthoux is certainly heavy on expository, but since the book is a biography it makes sense. The soft linework by Fauthoux is effective at capturing the many looks of James Brown throughout his life and helps underscore how his appearance was influenced by his life experiences. James Brown Black and Proud HC is a very good graphic novel version of his biography.

James Brown Black and Proud HC is available now.