Say the phrase “Biographical Graphic Novel” twelve times. You think that’s hard? Wrap your head around this.
As the personal sensitive vision of graphic novels continue to become more prominent in the comics market like a billowing emo storm, in a stark contrast Chad Essley’s new graphic novel documents the strange life and times of a public figure trying to disappear (albeit in a very public fashion). Essley’s new work, The Hinterland, documents his relationship with John McAfee (McAfee Antivirus) as he tries to go underground in an attempt to hide from authorities in Belize. Overnight, Chad Essley’s job title for McAfee (McAfee Antivirus) shifted from Illustrator to Webmaster and Primary Public Liaison, closely documenting the suspect’s scurry from the law. He writes, “I’ve been busy! Life has many twists and turns.” Indeed it does Chad.
Sixty40’s Matt Taylor elaborates: It has been an amazing ride following John McAfee’s adventures, from reclusive antivirus software mogul to alleged murderer with a compound and private army in South America. A graphic novel is the only logical conclusion to this saga and no doubt safer than having Vice magazine trail after you. This sounds like an amazing and personal insight into a man whose life is stranger than fiction, and needs images to fully realise the weirdness.
The McAfee story joins the ranks of other acclaimed graphic novels, recently released about very different people whose stories are also nothing short of incredible. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf (about the teenage tribulations of serial killer, Jeffery Dahmer) and Annie Sullivan and The Trials of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert (about Helen Keller’s tutor) came out last year. Unlike most autobio comics, which tend to be sad and lonely stories written by sad and lonely cartoonists, these all bust out into some bold new territory.
How all of these stories benefit from the graphic novel format is by the actions of giving these insane stories a face, a setting and through their hand-drawn nature, a personality. It’s interesting that none of the stories are drawn in a slick, highly styled way, but the simplicity and earnestness of their line work helps you assess these people who are labeled freaks, monsters or villains as just people; their actions are drawn out before you and you can be the judge rather than being steered in a direction by the prose of an author.
Of course, choice of art style sets a tone for a story, but I find that with all three of these stories the simplicity of style grounds them and lets you feel what it’s like to be that person or know them, rather than just sit back in the bleachers removed and gob smacked. The fact that these are all indie graphic novels, with a lower level expectation than if to say this was a feature with Brad Pitt signed to star as John McAfee, gives them the freedom to be less sensationalistic and explore the issues in a raw honest way, much like the style they are all drawn in.
This is also an exciting crazy first for comics in general. We’ll be watching this story unfold.