Chantler’s bracing look at the life of jazz musician Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke (1903–1931) frames musical genius as both gift and burden. Born in Iowa and distinguished as a child prodigy with a piano, Bix grows up to be an absolute failure at everything except jazz. Chantler’s page layouts mimic the genre’s irregularity: in miserable periods, regular panels march across the middle of the page in a repetitive line, but when Bix discovers the family piano and later the cornet, meets the woman he loves, and thrills in musical collaboration, panels joyfully pepper the page. The narrative keeps a tight focus on Bix’s perspective, questionably eliding some reported scandals, and is nearly wordless (only a few conversations are recorded in text). The crisp, monochrome visuals are reminiscent of midcentury newspaper comics, as well as Seth’s Clyde Fans. Throughout, Chantler returns to mine the fault lines of Bix’s character, such as a tendency to quit on promises and relationships—everything except the alcoholism that killed the musician at age 28. Flasks, bottles, and glasses undergird the story as regularly as a drumbeat, their final toll exacted in a melancholic, gorgeously orchestrated ending sequence. This graphic biography of an artistic innovator mimics the music he loved: chaotic, creative, and open to interpretation. (Apr.)
PRAISE FOR SCOTT CHANTLER AND BIX:
“We’re accustomed to seeing beautiful work by award-winning cartoonist Scott Chantler, but this book is particularly special....There’s minimal dialogue, and its expressive, silent art, all oriented horizontally, tells the story.....Chantler...varies the number of panels per page, the page layouts and the content of each panel, to pull off the trick perfectly. And it reflects the mood of the story. Frenetic scenes of dancing through the Jazz Age are crowded, while sad moments...are in sparse, measured arrangements. This book’s a gem, and so is Chantler.” —Toronto Star
“A marvel of imaginative illustrated narration....A vivid interpretation of the life of a remarkable musician.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Eisner-nominated Chantler utilizes the deliberate cadence of panels alternating with layered multipanel visual bursts to denote musicality and the excitement of life in this nearly worldless graphic biography, a daring and bold experiment that stunningly succeeds.” —Library Journal (starred review)
"Joyful and elegiac by turns...Chantler is...doing something wonderfully new. Succeeds on every level....[A] deeply felt portrait.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Crisp, monochrome visuals are reminiscent of midcentury newspaper comics, as well as Seth’s Clyde Fans....melancholic, gorgeously orchestrated.” —Publishers Weekly
"Wonderfully conceived....Polished and lovely." —Seth, author of Clyde Fans
“A master storyteller.”—Alexander Chee
“Somehow Scott manages to up his game with each new volume." —Chris Samnee
“[Chantler's] Two Generals should be given to all prospective cartoonists as a tutorial on how to visually tell tales.” —Jamie S. Rich
“Chantler is a talent not to be ignored.” —The A.V. Club
Born into a prosperous family in Davenport, IA, Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke's (1903–31) early musical talent was encouraged with private piano lessons that nevertheless fail to engage him. Things change, however, when he first hears the red-hot rhythms of jazz, first via vinyl disc but later from passing riverboats. He takes up the trumpet to re-create the audial magic that captured his soul. His conservative parents disapprove of what they hear as raucous noise and ship him off to school attempting to stamp out his willful desire to pursue the music he loved. Bix perseveres, finding new ways to reject his parent's plans and seek his muse. He also discovers and develops a taste for alcohol, as he gets drawn further into the world of jazz, juke joints, parties and performance, where his talents start to be recognized. As Bix reaches new heights, he gets more and more erratic, retreating to drink when the parties are over and losing control of direction and purpose. VERDICT Eisner-nominated Chantler (Two Generals) utilizes the deliberate cadence of panels alternating with layered multipanel visual bursts to denote musicality and the excitement of life in this nearly worldless graphic biography, a daring and bold experiment that stunningly succeeds. [Previewed in Douglas Rednour's Graphic Novels Preview, "Picture This," LJ 4/20.]—Douglas Rednour, Georgia State Univ. Libs., Atlanta
Gr 10 Up—Chantler's wordless work tells the story of Bix Beiderbecke, a wildly inventive early jazz soloist from the Roaring Twenties. Bix's story begins with his childhood in Davenport, IA, on the banks of the Mississippi river. Born to strict and religious parents, Bix is depicted as a subdued little boy whose only joy in life is music. Hailed as a musical prodigy, he learns complicated pieces simply by listening to them. The day his older brother brings home Bix's first record, Bix can think of nothing but the magic that is jazz, and, as an adult, he is unable to resist the lure of nightclubs, booze, and swinging jazz, much to his family's dismay. He becomes a fixture as a soloist in the jazz community and part of touring ensembles across the country, ultimately becoming a historical legend for his innovative style and unique sound. Chantler's illustrations complement each other well—classic black-and-white drawings with details and expressions that tell the story of Bix's life and echo the styles and attitudes of the twenties leading into the bleakness of the Great Depression. The panels depict Bix's successes and struggles with his personal demons so vividly, the absence of text and dialogue does not detract from the overall story. VERDICT A beautiful and haunting tribute to one of the early trailblazers of the jazz era. Music and history lovers will be fascinated by this portrayal of an enigmatic man.—Michael Marie Jacobs, Darlington School, GA
A mostly wordless illustrated tribute to a celebrated yet doomed jazz musician.
In this unconventional graphic biography, Canadian cartoonist and illustrator Chantler chronicles the life of legendary 1920s musician Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke (1903-1931). Calling him the “unlikeliest of jazz heroes,” the author re-creates the musician’s life through a series of cartoon panels that relate events from previous biographies, varying in interpretation and reliability. Chantler’s drawings chronicle Beiderbecke’s childhood in World War–era Iowa, where he was raised by critical, conservative parents. The story then moves to his boyhood, when his love of music and harmonic jazz melodies blossomed, particularly after hearing it live from a passing river steamboat. Though his schooling suffered, he matured as a mostly self-taught musician, scoring gigs with local bands and garnering regional notoriety. Inspired by Louis Armstrong, Bix rose to prominence as an outstanding jazz pianist and cornetist. However, chronic alcohol dependency would lead to his death at age 28. Chantler’s treatment of the musician’s life is distinctly creative, capturing moods through facial expressions and tightly detailed panels. In the brief introduction, the author readily admits that several scenes in the book are “apocryphal at best,” but he notes that the silent nature of its contents and the manner in which Bix’s life is portrayed reflects the struggle of many hypercreative, misunderstood artists (himself included) to express themselves in terms outside of the art they create. His experimental visualization of musical rhythms in scenes depicting Bix’s career high points is a marvel of imaginative illustrated narration. Chantler poignantly notes that the book was drawn during a devastating upheaval in his own personal life and that sketching it served as a “life raft for my battered sense of self.” This biographical storybook is a unique keepsake for jazz fans.
A vivid interpretation of the life of a remarkable musician perfect for “anyone who’s ever struggled to express themselves.