Wednesday, March 16, 2011

FYC replay: Capote in Kansas

Another one from the archives, spotlighting the great Capote in Kansas from Oni Press, written by Ande Parks with art from Chris Samnee.

The 411:
Capote in Kansas
Written by Ande Parks
Art by Chris Samnee
120 pages, b/w
Oni Press

What It Is (with apologies to Dave the Thune):

In 1959, Truman Capote was atop the literary world. Having catapulted to fame with his first published novel, 1948’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, he followed that up with a variety of works that reached an apex with the much-revered novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1958. His prose style was admired by many, including his childhood friend and author Harper Lee, Norman Mailer, and a young Andy Warhol. It was his delicate prose, coupled with the controversies surrounding his subject matter and his personal life, that helped propel him into the upper echelons of American celebrity during the 1950s.

But Capote was anxious to create something new, something he’d been contemplating for years – a non-fiction “novel.” Not only would it relay the facts of some true to life event, but readers would also be immersed within its world as completely as the best fiction. To that end, Capote went to Holcomb, Kansas where the Clutter family had been brutally murdered as they slept in their farmhouse. It was a horrific act lost on page nineteen of the New York Times, and the distance afforded Capote as he read about this tragedy in New York allowed him to believe he could easily write this book. Years later, Capote would famously state that “if [he] had known what waited for [him] in Garden City, [he] would have driven right through. [He] would never have stopped.”

Arriving in Kansas, Capote confronted a wall of silence. In mourning, and fearing what happened to the Clutters might happen again, the tiny populace had little time for this man from New York. Capote did little to help matters, walking through this small farming town clothed in cashmere scarves and silk turtlenecks. Unable to make inroads with these citizens, Capote found his research moving forward at a snail’s pace and worried it was all falling apart.

Harper Lee told him he needed to find a way to connect with this town or head home. Capote found this connection in the most unlikely of places, the Clutter farmhouse. There, the ghost of Nancy Mae Clutter, the murdered daughter, was waiting for him. Through this very human connection to the murder Capote reached an understanding of what he’d stumbled into. Dressed in a more casual manner, Capote washed off his air of entitlement and finally managed to make friends in this hurting town.

Months after the killing, Capote was also afforded the opportunity to speak with the suspects after they were finally apprehended. Unabashed in his desire to write this book, Capote spent many hours with these two killers. Not surprisingly, he formed a strong bond with the men imprisoned for this crime, most especially with Perry Smith. He drew out the humanity lurking deep within Smith and discovered, if not a kindred spirit, somebody with whom he could easily talk. Chilling, genuine, and all too sad, Capote eventually achieved the end for which he traveled to Kansas, the writing of a great book that has stood the test of time. But at what price did Truman Capote achieve this goal?

Ande Parks has crafted a taut drama that lays bare all too fully our human foibles. Although a piece of historical fiction, Capote in Kansas has been thoroughly researched and the results are obvious. Parks has created a story that is neither a glorification nor condemnation of the lengths to which Truman Capote went in order to create his masterpiece. Standing true to the characters, he reveals their desires and their failings in equal measure, providing readers with a very human drama that is a compelling read. The trials of Capote, and the strain it put on his relationships and his psyche in researching and writing this non-fiction novel will give any reader pause, but it is also these very real truths that urge Parks’s audience to turn the page and continue reading.

Known primarily as an artist for his work on such books as Superman, Daredevil, and Green Arrow, this is the second graphic novel Ande Parks has authored – the first being the fantastic Union Station – and he exhibits a facility far beyond what might be expected of someone writing their second book. Able to create genuine, well-rounded characters, the insights shared through Parks’s dialogue and the manner in which these characters react to difficult situations is inspired. Capote in Kansas rips away the fa├žade that is all too often erected through memory’s rose-colored glasses and reveals the heartache and pain of a community in crisis and an author who gets too close to his subject matter. This is easily one of the best-written graphic novels on the shelves today.

Chris Samnee, Parks’s collaborator on Capote in Kansas does an amazing job of realizing this story. To look at the pages, one would be hard-pressed to believe that this was Samnee’s first major comic credit. His brush work is soft and reminds me of Bryan Hitch’s with a reserved execution befitting the narrative. Samnee helps draw readers into the story with a fully realized setting that is beautifully rendered. Utilizing negative space sparingly, he shows a level of expertise that one is not accustomed to seeing in an artist without a large body of work and it is hard to imagine anyone else bringing this story to such vivid life.

Complementing Parks’s writing masterfully, the collaboration between Parks and Samnee on Capote in Kansas is a perfect melding of writer and artist. Do yourself a favor, pick this book up, and after that, go read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. A chilling work highlighted by some of the most brilliant prose ever put to paper, it is a book deserving of the description masterpiece, and its reading will only enhance that of Capote in Kansas.

An Interview with Ande Parks

CHRIS BECKETT: Why comics? What was it that attracted you to this storytelling medium?

Well, initially I went to comics because I like them and I had no idea what to do with my life. I just knew I didn’t want to spend my life doing something I hated. Now, I choose to continue telling stories in comics because it’s a versatile, unique, accessible art form. I think you can use the medium to tell any kind of story, and the freedom afforded creators in comics is stunning when compared to most other possibilities. If you’re doing Batman, you have to do what the folks who own Batman want, to some extent. On my creator-owned graphic novels, though, I am really given free reign. They are my stories.

BECKETT: You are primarily known for your artwork on books such as Green Arrow and Ultimate Team-Up. How challenging was it for you to don the writing hat with Capote in Kansas and previously, Union Station, and did your experience as a comic artist make it any easier for you?

I’ve always been a more natural writer than artist. I started my career as an inker because I had some talent for it and because it seemed like the fastest way to make a living in comics. Writing is harder than inking, but it’s also more rewarding. Writing scratches the creative itch that isn’t as strong for me as an inker, after doing that kind of work for a long time.

I do think that my experience as an artist has made me a more visual writer, which is a good thing. I’m very familiar with what does and doesn’t work visually in comics.

BECKETT: What was it that drew you to this particular story and made you want to create a comic dramatizing it?

I’ve been attracted to the story of Truman writing In Cold Blood ever since I first read the book… probably in Jr. High. I knew what Truman was like, having seen him on talk shows. I also knew what rural Kansas was like, having grown up in a suburban part of the state, and having grandparents in a small town much like where the Clutters lived. I think I immediately wondered how that odd little man had come to Kansas and convinced people to open up to him. That was the nugget that started the process.

BECKETT: What did Chris Samnee bring to this story that made him the artist for this project?

Chris draws real stuff in a very genuine, convincing, and interesting way. He nails all the period details, but doesn’t let that stuff get in the way of the drama. He is just remarkable… talented far beyond his years.

BECKETT: What other projects are you working on that you would like to tell readers about?

I just finished writing the upcoming Daredevil Annual, which will be out pretty soon. Ed Brubaker plotted it, and I did the script. I’m very excited about it. I’m also working on a new OGN for Oni Press. It’s called Blood Red, and I’m doing it with a great artist named Shawn Crystal. It’s a revenge story, set on Mars in the future… definitely not another historical fiction book! More stuff in the works, but too early to talk about.

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