Bluesman: Book One
Written by Rob Vollmar
Illustrated by Pablo Callejo
Published by Absence of Ink; $6.95 USD
Bluesman is the latest project from the Eisner-nominated creative team of The Castaways, writer Rob Vollmar and artist Pablo Callejo. Set against the backdrop of 1930s America, it chronicles guitarist Lem Taylorís journey across Arkansas to Memphis, where the promise of a new life awaits him. To call Bluesman a simple story is a disservice, but, thatís what it is. Itís a simple story set in a simpler time, which is one of the reasons the book is so appealing. Lem Taylor and ďIronwoodĒ Malcott are, from the moment of their introduction, two of the most compelling characters ever put down on the page. When we first meet them they are asleep in a barn, another manís barn as we soon find out, and are woken up to said man holding a shotgun to them; itís a situation that is immediately intriguing and alarming and throws the reader right into the mess that is these menís lives.
As with their previous effort, The Castaways, Vollmar and Callejo capture the essence of their chosen era perfectly. Their characters, be they the main cast, supporting, or even the throwaway, never feel as if they are caricatures of that time period, but that they are indeed living, breathing creatures. Vollmarís dialogue is a prime example of this. He never avoids the eras slang (something many writers in comics cannot pull off) and never substitutes it for more modern terms, (sort of a knee-jerk reaction most writers have, if you canít get it right, then fake it), he has an uncanny grasp of the language, and itís prevalent on every page of the book.
To attempt to describe Callejoís art would be an injustice to both the man and his work. There are remarkable distinctions between Lem and Ironwood; Callejo seems to be able to infuse each with their respective attributes. Lem appears very youthful and vibrant, ready for where the road will lead him, while Ironwood looks as if heís had a much harder life, heís older and age has settled in, his shoulders slump slightly and looks like the type of man who would shuffle his feet when he walks, in fact there are occasions where you can almost hear the sound of poorly shoed feet barely coming off the dirt roads they travel.
Then thereís the music. What would a graphic novel called Bluesman be without the music? This is perhaps, surprisingly, where both the words and pictures blend the best; itís a seamless melding, and you can almost hear the piano and guitar coming off the page as Lem begins to sing. Rob has also peppered the book with bits of history about the life of the blues singers, all credited to a fictional critic, Deldoff.
Ultimately, Bluesman is something truly compelling, a rarity in the world of comics. Itís a story of the human condition told from a human standpoint. Rob and Pablo have managed to take us into the past without ever realizing weíve made the transition. Theyíve shown us a world that is both enviable and fearful, and men that are equally loveable and pitiable. Theyíve captured lightning in a bottle not once, but twice now, no small feat in any medium, much less comics.
Like The Castaways before it, Bluesman should be regarded as one of the best works to ever see print; an example of the depth to which graphic novels can be taken and proof that comics are a viable form of art. While Vollmar and Callejo arenít exactly creating the Mona Lisa, itís likely as close as you can get in the world of comics. The work is so intoxicatingly beautiful that itís impossible to sum up the feeling you get after reading it. Grade: 5/5
-- Logan Polk
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