Strangely Drawn to Freddie


by Mike Dawson (Bloomsbury USA) 

In many ways, it was Rock 'n' Roll that turned comic books into graphic novels. Even before R. Crumb quite knew what he was doing, and even though his tastes run more toward 78s from the torrid climes, the liberating force, the form meets content of Rock -- the sheer, in-your-face, ugly-beautiful, smart-simple, visceral appeal infiltrated his work. Here you could write, and draw, and the feeling that resulted was a true one plus one equals three equation.

Over the past ten years or so, the graphic novel craze his grown -- and notable masterpieces (most notably, Art Spiegelman's Maus, and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis have shown how the memoir can really take off when pictures meet words.)

So I was intrigued, but also a little scared, when I dove into Mike Dawson's Freddie & Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody. Could being a Queen-freak really hold water against Hitler and the Ayatollah?

The answer is yes. And it's mostly because of the divine symbiosis of Rock (with a capital 'r', and not Rock 'n' Roll) and graphic novels. And also because of Dawson's relentless honesty, risk-taking, and the fact that, quite simply, he draws like a mother!

The story is, to use a lumpy, pretentious, literary term, a Bildungsroman (look it up, it's worth it.) The story of the making of an artist. But the way Dawson's passion for the outsized Freddie Mercury, his move from that singularly dreary thing known as a post-war exurbian village in the U.K. to New Jersey, with more than a little fillip of George Michael's artistic struggles, and some internecine rivalry, make a delicious stew. Just when the everyday nature of the narrative started to lull me, in popped Freddie and in blasted Lawson's fantasy world, and I was shot right back to my youth, when records mattered more than YouTube or video games. 

And then, like in a great rock ballad -- like in "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- little strange thought jewels were dropped in. Micro-philosophical tidbits -- how can we remember? How can we know what really happened?

This probing honesty keeps you reading, and is blended with the baroque power of the panels and the flow. Like a Rock anthem. So, Dawson won me over. But I kept questioning. "How, Mike, how are you going to end this?" I kept asking. I won't tell you any more, but he did it beautifully, with bravado. With sensitivity. And with a restraint that an artist such as Mr. Mercury himself would have appreciated. Almost made me want to do the fandango. - Ken Krimstein


Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.