Review: Capote in Kansas by Ande Parks & Chris Samnee (Oni Press)

Capote in KansasTruman Capote’s In Cold Blood is considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.

And I haven’t read it.

Ridiculous, really, given my love of crime fiction. After all, Capote’s “non-fiction novel” paved the way for modern real-life crime dramas. And while I’ve always preferred the fiction in my crime – I suppose I enjoy the safety net of the author’s imagination, that I’m not bearing witness to depraved reality – there are some books you need to make exceptions for. And indeed, thanks to Capote in Kansas, I intend to rectify that blank spot in my library with immediate effect.

This collaboration between writer (and letterer)  Ande Parks and illustrator Chris Samnee is a fictional account – grounded in fact – of Truman Capote’s investigation into the murder of the Clutter, and its effects on the town of Garden City – and indeed Captoe himself. Arriving in expensive designer garb and bearing a New Yorker’s arrogance, Capote is quickly forced to reinvent himself (thanks to some advice from Harper Lee), both in appearance and attitude, in order to have the town’s citizens open up to him. Interestingly, and somewhat uncomfortably, Parks and Samnee choose not to demonize the Clutter killers: they are humanized, presented as real, but deeply troubled individuals. But the uneasiness and paranoia of the townsfolk is never examined, unlike In Cold Blood, which I understand is a vital component of Capote’s story; and it does feel like that vital component fundamental. Even a couple of scenes interspersed throughout, just to demonstrate how affected the people of Garden City were, would’ve enhanced the story’s quality. At times it in Capote in Kansas, it feels like Capote is operating in a vacuum, when that was clearly not the case.

Capote in Kansas will ultimately live or die in the eyes of its readers depending on their willingness to accept the story’s gigantic fictional leap: that Capote communicates, or imagines to converse with (depending on the respective reader’s perspective), the ghost of Nancy Clutter.  The story needs an emotional hook, and it makes sense that Parks and Samnee, operating in a graphic medium, have chosen to visualize that aspect, and the ghost’s personification allows for a touching epilogue; but it is a constant reminder that this is historical fiction with a heavy emphasis on the fiction.

Still, for all my nit-picking, Capote in Kansas is highly enjoyable, and at the very least offers insight into the basis of In Cold Blood, thereby teasing readers into grabbing a copy of that masterwork. Samnee’s illustrations flirt with the greatness we’re seeing nowadays in the pages of Daredevil, and Parks deserves credit for not going the obvious rout with this account and overwhelming readers with historical facts. Offered a choice between a dry caption-heavy interpretation and this, I’ll choose Capote in Kansas every time.

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