Comic Solutions

Book Review–Baby’s In Black

Baby’s In Black
First Second
Arne Bellstorf
May 2012

This book is based upon a true story.  

Astrid Kircherr is a young photographer in 1960 Germany, when her life is thrown for a loop.  Through Klaus, her sometimes boyfriend, she is introduced to a new band from the UK that is performing at a local bar.  The Beatles…before they were the Beatles.  Astrid and their bassist Stuart Sutcliffe quickly fall in love.  When the Beatles have to return to the UK, Stuart quits and stays behind.  He picks up the paintbrush again and is quickly accepted as a rising star in the modern art world.  He and Astrid, madly in love, are soon engaged.  Their life seems absolutely perfect.  And then…the unthinkable happens.

There’s something special about this book.  Not that it focuses on the Beatles, but because Arne crafts a tale of personal relationships and what makes them work.  He makes it easy to relate to the characters, to sympathize with their struggles of communicating across language but being united by some of the things that make us who we are–music, art, hope, friendship, love.  It sounds sappy I know, but I left the book feeling like I really knew the people that were introduced in the story, especially Astrid and Stuart.  It’s easy to see that Astrid and Stuart care about each other, even while struggling to communicate in different languages.  I think one of my favorite parts is when a friend is asking Astrid how Stuart’s German is coming and she says “he could speak old Siberian and I’d still be in love.”  My one minor grip, and this maybe due to differences in culture since the book was written in German, is that sometimes the transitions between stories are a bit rough.  It seems like we jump scenes and times in a couple places, with no warning or no advanced knowledge, we only know that time has moved forward by comments the characters make, which is a bit different from what we see in typical American story telling.  Once you get into the story though, its easy enough to recognize the pattern.

The artwork really reminds me a lot of David B’s (author of Epileptic) and the type of style that he taught to his students, which includes Marjane Satrapi author of Persepolis.  It’s a very sparse line drawing that captures just the bare essence of the characters and surrounding world, yet is very evocative, especially in capturing the smoky essence of the bar.  In just a few lines Arne captures the the characters and the emotion, the tenderness, the hope that the Astrid and Stuart felt for each other.  I love how in some places the lines leave the panel, as if the energy being created by the characters is powerful enough to transcend the boxes that we may put them in.  Some of the most powerful scenes are the ones right at the end, where Arne captures that feeling of being told bad news.  Where people are speaking around you and you can’t hear them.

I do want to make special mention of the fonts chosen, as it is something that folks are likely to notice.  There are two different types, one hand drawn for the noises (such as ring) but a typewriter type font for the spoken word.  While it might appear a bit different this is what the original looks like as well (at least based upon image searches that I was able to find) so it remains true in style to what Arne chose.  

I really enjoyed this book and found that it made me want to know more about Stuart and Astrid’s lives, before and after the events depicted in the book.  I would highly recommend this book, not just to fans of the Beatles, but to people that enjoy a good biographical story.  5 out of 5 stars.

A review copy of this book was provided by Gina at FirstSecond.

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