Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Amadeo & Maladeo by R.O. Blechman

Blechman has been making comics and related art for six or seven decades now, going back to 1953's The Juggler of Our Lady. Most of that stuff was collected a few years back in Talking Lines -- but Blechman is still around and still making art.

(If anything below ends up sounding critical -- I never know which way my fingers will tend -- let me say up front here that it's really damn impressive that Blechman is still around, still working, and still getting books published. This is a man who was born in 1930 and got into the Art Directors Hall of Fame nearly twenty years ago...and he had a new book out in 2016. I only hope I can be around when I'm 86.)

Amadeo & Maladeo is a historical graphic novel, something of a compare-and-contrast about two musician-composers in the late 18th century, loosely inspired by the life of Mozart. And it looks like it will have a crisp, defined contrast between the two of them, but then...wanders off into specifics on both sides that make that comparison muddied.

I'm torn on whether that makes this book stronger or weaker -- on the one hand, the book it seemed to be heading towards could have been dull and obvious, with the rich prodigy brought low in the end and the poor kid finding fame and success in America. On the other hand, their careers aren't particularly parallel, and there's a moment where something bad happens to a middle-aged Amadeo -- a carriage accident of some kind -- that Blechman never quite explains.

But, anyway, Amadeo is a prodigy, performing for the crowned heads of Europe in the 1750s, before the age of ten. Maladeo, born on the other side of the blanket to a servant girl who had a happy night with Amadeo's violin-teacher father, performs on street-corners and is shanghaied to New York at a young age.

In the end, we are with Maladeo as a happy old man, which I suspect is the big clue -- Blechman himself lived to an impressive old age, and he had Amadeo die at an age similar to Mozart's. Neither man could choose his life, of course, and both had successes and happiness along the way -- but Maladeo is still going at the end, and that has to count for something.

So there may not be a moral here, just the story of two contrasting lives. The world has enough morals, though, so the lack here is not a problem. And Blechman's trademark "shaky line" is as expressive and wonderful here as ever -- note that it's not because of age; he's always drawn like that on purpose. If you're not expecting something stark and classical in its construction, you'll likely enjoy Amadeo & Maladeo a lot.

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