Monday, February 5, 2018

Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman

I was anxious and excited to read this new biography by Box Brown. Anxious because I have read, watched, and learned a lot about Andy Kaufman over the years, and I wondered if there was going to be anything novel or revelatory about this book. Excited because I have very much enjoyed pretty much every comic, mini-comic, and graphic novel I have read by Brown, including his biography of Andre the Giant and his history of Tetris. I am glad to report that this book is fantastic.
It details Kaufman's childhood and career, hitting all the high points like his work as a stand-up, on Saturday Night Live, Taxi, and his tenure as the Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World that led to his feud with "The King" Jerry Lawler. He was a unique figure, obviously very talented but also interested in seeing how far he could go to get crowds to both love and hate him. He died of cancer in 1984, but there are still those who wonder whether that was also some elaborate stunt he pulled. Probably what is most impressive about The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman is how well it ties a unifying thread through all of these proceedings. Also, it has lots of great stories that will interest people unfamiliar with Kaufman, but it still had some insights and tales I was unfamiliar with, so it should appeal to some more informed fans, too. Brown interviewed many folks to get some unique angles, and the ending especially was pitch-perfect to me.

The artwork is clean, with strong, simple lines that are surprisingly evocative. The storytelling is excellent, and overall I feel that this book is Brown's most heartfelt, mature, and best work yet. I am very much eager to see what his next project will be. For those who are interested, Brown speaks more on his work on this book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been good. Publishers Weekly wrote, "It is a well-researched, enjoyable yarn written by the one author working in the comics medium who fans would want to tell Kaufman’s story." Pharoah Miles called it "an excellent book, which reminds me so much of how much of a virtuoso Kaufman truly was." And I agree with the reviewer at This Weblog is Unique who wrote,"The details that create funny, touching, discomfiting, and heartwarming moments make the book feel intimate and honest."

Is This Guy For Real? was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more available here.

A preview copy of the book was provided by the publisher.

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