Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 33

Baby's In Black

by Arne Bellstorf
Genre notes: music history, romance
208 pages
ISBN: 1596437715 (Amazon)

Apart from relating what in many ways is a doleful tale (the book is titled after the Beatles’ song, “Baby’s In Black,” a song about Astrid Kirchherr mourning for the departed original Beatle, Stuart Sutcliffe), Arne Bellstorf’s adaptation creates a lively mise-en-scene, filled with breathing characters whose lives, dreams, and hopes are affixed to reality without becoming sentimentalized. This last part may be the book’s chief charm—that a book principally founded on unfulfilled longing could avoid sentimentalization is mark of distinction. It would have been easy for Baby’s In Black to play to manipulation; that the book remains honest throughout is to Bellstorf’s credit.

Baby’s In Black is told through Astrid’s eyes. It is more her story than Sutcliffe’s. And while Sutcliffe may fill the principal male role, as the object of her attentions, John, Paul, George, and Klaus feature only as supporting figures, filling the background and painting a raucous sort of peoplescape over which the story’s romance blooms. Pete Best flits through the book almost entirely unseen and Ringo was not yet a part of this history. Still, for all these small parts, Bellstorf does well in choosing these sidemen’s character moments and gives the reader a sense of who these clowns were during the Hamburg era.

Visually, Baby’s In Black develops its story through wonderful cartooning. The powerful black-and-white drawing helps underscore how indelibly this historical moment will carve itself into Astrid’s life. While Sutcliffe admits an affinity for the colour red in his art, Astrid prefers black. For this, it’s fitting that her tale should be told without colour—save for an appropriate dash of red text on the book’s cover on the US edition. Despite the book’s cartoony character designs, the figures’ simplicity never threatens to diminish the story. Bellstorf conveys almost the whole of the burgeoning romance in a series of looks that pass between the eyes. We are allowed to see so much in such simple line gestures.

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