Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Art of Running

Steve Prefontaine died in 1975 at the age of 24, but he left behind a legacy rare for a modern track and field athlete. He attended college and ran track for coach Bill Bowerman, a hugely influential figure and co-founder of the massive athletic shoe company Nike. He also competed at the 1972 Olympic Games and did not win a medal, but what he did was capture many people's attention with his approach to running and outspoken ways. He became a celebrity of sorts, almost like a rock star, but a car accident cut his life and career short. His rise to fame and untapped potential have fascinated people for decades, and his life has been portrayed in not one but two bio movies released as major motion pictures.

The Art of Running is in part another telling of his biography, done this time as a graphic novel, but it is also a look at his life and beliefs in a way that get at the man and his motivations. I can tell from the well detailed artwork, the attention to specific life episodes, and the way his thoughts are delineated that this book is a real labor of love. I appreciated how the book focused on various aspects of his life, not just his later successes and international presence but also his early days where he learns to run and encounters many interesting personalities, chief among them his coach at the University of Oregon.
I felt that overall the book succeeded in showing a reader (even one who did not know who Prefontaine was) much about his life and times as well as what it was about him that made such an impression. The quotations that kick off each chapter went a long way in establishing a definitive line of thought that unified the narrative. This biography was not just a dry portrayal of facts but a fleshed out, compelling portrait of an extraordinary person.

The only drawback for me about this book lay in the way it ended, and I am uncertain if the creators quite stuck the landing. The scene where he died was a little bit vague for my tastes, with an abrupt transition from a scene of a car crashing to a magazine cover tribute. If I did not know his story I don't think I would have understood quite what was going on. In a way, his death was accidental and somewhat nebulous because of contrasting accounts, so perhaps that vagueness was intention. I think that it certainly creates enough curiosity that an interested reader would seek out more information, but I could also see it leading to some disappointment at the unclear ending of what has been up to the that point a very well crafted set of events. I won't way that the book was ruined by any means, because I quite enjoyed it; I just felt that one key sequence came off a bit wonky.

This book was funded as a Kickstarter project by the husband/wife team of Matthew J.J. and Megan Crehan. Matthew is a running enthusiast, author, and comics creator who is best known for his revival of the British "Tough of the Track" character Alf Tupper. Megan is a photographer and, as far as I can tell, has no other comics credits. The artwork, done in pleasing, realistic, and simple painterly style, is by Sigit Nugroho.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Jonathan Gault called it "a fitting tribute to the man and a nice resource for anyone looking to learn (or re-familiarize themselves with) the story of Steve Prefontaine." Matt Rasmussen wrote, "The storytelling is solid and I found the artwork mesmerizing." Richard Bruton opined that this book hit "that happy medium of storytelling and fact, and doing it with style, picking the best elements and presenting them well."

The Art of Running is available directly from Matthew Crehan here (he is in the UK, so international shipping rates to the US would apply).  He also has preview pages and more information on his website.

A review copy was provided by the authors. Thank you!

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