Scott McClanahan (Text) Ricardo Cavolo (Artist)
Two Dollar Radio
Here Daniel Johnston’s life has been lovingly paid tribute to in a rather exquisitely made graphic novel/biography. The non-fiction graphic novel can at times get bogged down when trying to find room for text but still have something to say, image-wise, not the case here in what is clearly a dream-pairing between artist and writer and then between the comic makers and subject.
Spanish artist Ricardo Cavolo is a fan of Johnston’s music but arrived at that via the artwork. And his own illustrations tap directly into the colour, fury and perversity of Johnston’s work, the dream-like caricatures of portraiture, there’s an economy of movement across and within the panels but the screams of colour announce the action, imply it, driving the story also.
Writer Scott McClanahan creates memorable prose-poem like stories of utmost efficiency and epigrammatic integrity. This is a writer who understands the plight of this artist, the book being as much about the (troubles with) mythologising of “cult” artists as it is about Daniel’s own life and struggle and work.
These incantations, these meditations, seem to so well understand Daniel Johnston and they point to so many of the key moments (being discovered at McDonald’s and appearing on MTV, the breakdown mid-flight with his father, the documentary about his life and work) and the writer and artist her give dues to some of the overlooked figures in Johnston’s career and life – such as behind-the-scenes man Jeff Tartakov, who has tirelessly and (often) thanklessly worked as manager, wrangler and archivist.
The poetry of the words here emulates some of Johnston’s songwriting, in a similar way that the artwork hints around the preoccupations in Daniel’s drawings. That makes it all the more fascinating that McClanahan was a hired gun, picked by the publisher for the English/American translation of a book Cavolo had already published a version of; at any rate this stands as a poignant tribute and impressive set of drawings and words for graphic novel junkies even outside of any interest/appreciation of Johnston and his work.
A wonderful book – quite profound is its assessment and understanding of mental illness. And there’s such a vibrancy to these pages. It’ll make you return to the music, it’ll have you hoping and waiting for more artwork, more songs and particularly more work from these two talented artists.