Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Michael Jordan: Bull on Parade

Michael Jordan: Bull on Parade is an energetic and bombastic look at one of the greatest basketball players of all time who also happens to be one of the largest international marketing figures. This biography hits the high points in his life, from his early frustrations at not making his high school basketball team, to his time in Chapel Hill where he won a national championship, to his two stints with the Chicago Bulls where he eventually won six world titles, to his attempt to break into major league baseball, to his many business successes. It is clear that this book is the work of a fan, and MJ comes off as a larger than life figure, but there are also references to his darker aspects of his life, including his gambling habit, at least one mistress, and the strange circumstances his father's murder.

What I really enjoyed about the book is how it situates the man in his times and context, making some connections to social issues such as race, censorship, shady business practices, poverty, and violence. I think this is especially a good contrast, as Jordan himself has distanced himself and never really publicly voiced his views on such matters. Also, where I think the book really shines are in its depictions of game action. It shows pivotal scenes from all the Bulls' championship runs, and those scenes are simultaneously bright, powerful, and dynamic. Just check out the sequence below:
However, as good as the art is in places in the book, there are other instances where it looks a little muddy. Also, I think that the author tries to pack a little too much into the book to the point where some context gets lost. I paid a lot of attention to MJ's basketball career, and I get many of the references to the times and circumstances around his life, but I felt some major topics were given short shrift. For example, there is very little about his relationship with Nike in here, which I find strange given how globally omnipresent his Air Jordan sneakers were and still are. Also, there are many scenes that I feel fly by because they are given little context and some panels that may be throwaways because the characters depicted within are not really introduced or explained. Take for instance, this one from MJ's appearance on Saturday Night Live. Would anyone who did not already know what this was get it?
Still, I think that overall this is a fun book that fans of basketball and Michael Jordan in particular would enjoy. It is the creation of Wilfred Santiago, a graphic artist currently living in Chicago. He is known in graphic novel circles for his excellent biography 21 - The Story of Roberto Clemente. It seems to me that he excels at telling stories about the athletes who have figured large in his life. He speaks more about his work on the MJ biography in this interview.

Most of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive, though some offer reservations. Michael Bettendorf summed up his review, "Santiago’s drawings and colors bring a unique style into the comics medium and offers great snapshots into the life of Michael Jordan, but if you’re expecting a full-fledged biography, you’ll be disappointed." Publishers Weekly commented positively about "a strong, tightly-written narrative that often deftly illustrates social issues of the time." Shea Hennum had much praise about the book, especially because "Wilfred Santiago does a fantastic job of getting me to buy into a subject I have no real interest in."

Michael Jordan: Bull on Parade was published by Fantagraphics, and they have a preview and more information about the book available here. There are a few "bleeped" swear words and some mature situations with infidelity,  but I do not think there is anything that a reader in middle school or above could not handle.

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