blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Billie Holiday (1991)


Billie Holiday begins with a biographical essay by Francis Marmande. It’s from the 2000 Casterman edition. The original trademark is 1991, so Billie Holiday has had some editions, some revisions. At least in the packaging. Because Marmande’s essay, glancing through it, appears to give the reader a thoughtful, understanding quick biography of Billie Holliday.

The subsequent comic itself doesn’t do anything along those lines. There’s some connective tissue because the players can be the same, but José Muñoz and Carlos Sampayo aren’t really doing a biography. They’re doing biographical sketches, but there’s a lot going on.

For example, I wasn’t expecting Billie Holiday to have a guest apperance from Muñoz and Sampayo’s famous detective, Alack Sinner, but he’s here. He’s integral. At the end of the story, he’s maybe the most important character.

The structure is already convulted before Alack shows up. It’s about a reporter who has until morning to write about Billie Holiday. He’s a square white dude writing the story before sunrise. Billie Holiday, thirty years later. The reporter–who’s either nameless or should be–writes the biography, apparently, with nothing but veiled racism and class hatred. In the reporter’s story, Holiday is a dangerous drug addict. In the flashbacks, she’s this tragic figure, constantly abused by the men in her life. And since the flashbacks chop around, there’s nothing much but that abuse. When Alack arrives and gets a frame of his own into the story–he was one of the cops present at her death–his profound reaction to the anniversary overpowers the rest of Holiday.

The reporter is an obnoxious, loathsome idiot. Holiday’s tragic. Wonderful and tragic. She’s not really a character though. She’s not a dangerous drug addict, sure, but Sampayo doesn’t really want to get much further into her head. So she’s never a character. She’s the subject, nothing more. And she’s not subject to too close an inspection.

At least not narratively.

The art? Well, Muñoz is having a grand time. He’s ambitious and nimble and overindulgent and breathtaking. It’s a gorgeous comic.

And it’s a good comic.

It’s just a non-fiction Alack Sinner spin-off, which is strange and not the best way to do a biography.

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