Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Capote in Kansas

A "nonfiction novel," In Cold Blood is a landmark work in that it brought nonfiction writing more into the literary mainstream and established author Truman Capote as a star. Additionally, it was an important work in the tradition/movement that came to be known as the New Journalism, which was most popular in the 1960s and 1970s. The plot of the novel follows the investigation and trial of two men with checkered and troubled pasts. After a bungled robbery that results in the brutal deaths of the Clutters, a family of four, who lived in rural Kansas, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock attempted to cover their tracks and flee, but were eventually apprehended and tried.

That such a crime took place in a quiet and isolated small town created a stir and a sensationalistic news story. Through interviews, court transcripts, and local gossip, Capote amassed a mountain of information to craft the novel, his take on the situation. Capote in Kansas recounts the horrific Clutter family murders and the subsequent investigation but also offers a look at Capote himself. Capote came to the town because he felt the story would make for a powerful The New Yorker piece. The townspeople of Holcomb did not take to Capote and his urban bon vivant tendencies, and they treat him as an outsider. To remedy this situation, Capote calls in some assistance from his childhood friend Harper Lee (yes, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird) who helps to establish that he means well and that he can be trusted with their stories. Along with the events of the novel, the graphic novel also relates Capote's everyday life in Holcomb, including a relationship/dalliance with a local school teacher.

Ande Parks wrote this "drawn novel," and Chris Samnee illustrated it. Parks works as a writer and inker and has done work with all the major comic companies. He is probably best known for writing a recent relaunch of Green Arrow for DC Comics. Samnee is a well-published artist who has also been busy producing works for all the big comics companies. His use of negative space and shadows makes for some very evocative scenes in this black and white work.

This graphic novel has been well reviewed, with most people being divided about how fact and fiction are intertwined. Colleen Mondor writes that Parks "has created a piece of art with Capote in Kansas" in her very thoughtful review of the book. Lee Atchison called it the "stand out comic" of the year. Another positive review comes from Gary Sassaman. Hilary Goldstein admits it may be better received by people who have read the novel first but thinks it would be "enjoyable" to others who had not as well. Gillian Flynn at Entertainment Weekly was not so kind.

A 5-page preview is available from the book's publisher, Oni Press.

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