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.

Review: Ciudad by Ande Parks, Joe & Anthony Russo, and Fernando Leon Gonzalez

CiudadCIUDAD is essentially an 80’s action movie played out on 160 black-and-white comic book pages, with all the nuance (or lack of) that comes with those films. Your enjoyment of this latest graphic novel from Oni Press is entirely dependent on your predilection for the DIE HARD’s and CON AIR’s of the world. If exaggerated violence and one man armies induce eye-rolls, CIUDAD isn’t for you. But if you’re happy to indulge, there’s enough here to keep you entertained. Still, as I was reading I couldn’t help but envision this as a screenplay turned into a graphic novel as a consolation for it having not reached the big screen.

There is heckuva conglomeration of creative talent involved in CIUDAD. Ande Parks is a veteran of the comic book form, and his fellow storytellers include writer/directors Joe and Anthony Russo, while Fernando Leon Gonzalez handles the art. The plot is simple: Eva Roche, the daughter of an imprisoned mobster, has been kidnapped and is being held hostage in the real world locale of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; home to the largest illicit economy in the Western Hemisphere, where there’s a potential new threat on every corner.

Tyler Rake, mercenary for hire, is hired rescue Eva. He’s your typical action hero; a cold and merciless drone, who kills on autopilot, does the job and gets out, emotionally unattached. So of course, in CIUDAD we witness the smoothing of Rake’s rough edges as he grows closer to the girl. Standard action movie trope right? Our hero starts of cold and distant, someone we admire for his skill, but admonish for his attitude; but when the credits finally roll, or when we turn the final page, we’ve warmed to him; he’s been humanized by his experiences.

Gonzalez’s artwork, though polished, feels handicapped by the persistent grid layout of CIUDAD; almost like the creative team had too much story for the number of pages they had available to tell their story, so Gonzalez had to limit his use of wider panels. Certain action sequences lack the dynamism that would’ve truly made them pop, which has nothing to do with color (the black and white really works) and everything to do with layouts. The script is solid, and the plot contains the requisite twists and turns and treachery one expects from an action blockbuster – but there’s an air of unoriginality about things. We’ve seen this story a thousand times before, and while this is a solid reincarnation, it’s not exactly in the top echelon.

If my review sounds unduly harsh it’s because I had such high expectations for this creative team, and the result of their collaboration, CIUDAD, doesn’t reach the heights I’d hoped it would. My suggestion would be to borrow this from your local library, and meanwhile immediately purchase CAPOTE IN KANSAS, which truly showcases Ande Parks’s talent.