Sunday, September 15, 2013
Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays
Mark Twain famously said, "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." This collection of "picto-essays" certainly reflects the sentiment expressed in the second part of the quotation, with its wide range of stories and accounts that accompany similar variety in reality. Syncopated is an eclectic mix of non-fiction works, including personal essays, historical accounts, and biographical sketches that have much to offer a curious reader.
The tales include:
A story about baling hay, which is much more informative and interesting that I expected.
A disturbing series of illustrations based on Guantanamo Bay detention camp interrogation transcripts.
A biography of August Dvorak, creator of a simplified keyboard that never caught on popularly.
A history of postcards.
A sobering account of the 1921 Tulsa race riots.
An account of a family going to China to adopt a child.
A biography of the influential psychologist Erik Erikson.
As can be seen from the images, the artists all work in black and white and use diverse styles to get their points across. Although I was not extremely interested in all of the stories, they are all well told and composed. Many of them are highly informative and also affecting. The only real clunkers (and still, they are beautifully rendered) for me in the book were two different galleries of images, one of Washington Square Park and the other of subway performers. In the end, it is not a book I would read voraciously, but over time it has many insights and moments to share.
The book's editor Brendan Burford is comics editor of King Features, one of the largest comics syndicates in the US and home to many highly recognizable strips. He sees himself as a messenger about the potential and range of comics, and he gathers nonfiction accounts such as those here for a series of Syncopated collections as well as drawing his own mini comics. He speaks more about his work on this book and his career in general in this interview with Tom Spurgeon.
The reviews I have read about this book have been largely positive. J. Caleb Mozzocco wrote that "there aren’t any bad pieces in the whole book, which make this a rather exceptional anthology." Laurel Maury praised it as "another step in the maturation of the art form." Andy Shaw called it "well worth a look."
Syncopated is published by Villard, an imprint of Random House, and they offer a preview here.