From: Paul Gravett: On Comics and Graphic Novels


Like a beacon, Maus was one graphic novel that lit the way. Begun in 1981, Art Spiegelman's interweaving of his father's oral account of the Holocaust with his own confessional as a survivor's son illuminated paths into underexplored territories for comics, as historical accounts and autobiographical memoirs.

One of the earliest to follow along those paths in America was award-winning young playwright James Vance. He originally wrote his Depression-era drama Kings In Disguise (W.W. Norton) in 1984 as a one-act play. Fred Bloch is a lone, abandoned teenage runaway, searching for his unemployed father, who is forced to grow up fast amid kindness and cruelty on the cross-country railroads with the self-crowned "King of Spain", his ailing hobo ally Sammy. On rediscovering comics, Vance quickly saw the opportunities to enhance his tale by translating it from stage to page. Free from live theatre's limits on duration and detail of decor, Vance could take time to show and tell clearly his characters' small, nuanced moments and shifts into dream and memory and richly recreate the 1930s period through his researched settings, costumes and props. His chosen artist-collaborator Dan Burr rises to these challenges and brings a down-to-earth vividness to this sensitive yet unsentimental story.

Text © Paul Gravett. Used with permission.
All artwork © the respective copyright holders.



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