Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Golden Bookshelf:

Voodoo Child renders guitarist Jimi Hendrix’s life from childhood to tragic end in a highly saturated, deliberate style that echoes the intensity of the rockstar’s unique sound.

Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix

Bill Sienkiewicz had been missing from the comics scene for several years before this illustrated biography of rock legend Jimi Hendrix appeared in 1996. For his return, Sienkiewicz chose a subject well-suited to his own eclectic, highly-saturated style. Indeed, if anyone could create a visual representation of Hendrix’s unique sound, it’s Bill Sienkiewicz.

Voodoo Child is a straightforward biography, tracing Hendrix’s life from childhood to its tragic and premature end. Martin Green’s story mixes facts from Hendrix’s life with impressionistic vignettes that hint at his relationship with his mother, his father and, most importantly, with the music. About half the book traces Jimi’s early years growing up in Seattle (of all places), his career as an army paratrooper cut short by an injury, and his apprenticeship as a session musician for traveling R&B acts in the early 60s. The narrative takes a jolt forward when he forms his trio, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and rockets to success following an electrifying performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

Sienkiewicz’s artwork surrounds the story like feedback around a basic melody. He’s in full-on multimedia mode, working predominantly in watercolors with hints of crayon, pastel, pencil and photo-effects. In the midst of pages packed with explosions of color and outbursts of distorted lettering to simulate the sound of the music, the characters are represented with realistic, almost photographic likenesses. Despite the flamboyance of the art, the storytelling generally follows a panel grid – probably in an effort to make the book easier to read for an audience not accustomed to the conventions of sequential art.Voodoo Child is a beautiful book that makes a strong claim for Sienkiewicz as a major visual art beyond the medium of comics. And certainly the story is gripping and well-told. Whether Voodoo Child ranks in the top tier of graphic novels depends on how you assess the literary value of a rock-star biography, as the book doesn’t shoot for much beyond capturing the life, mindset and aesthetic sensibility of its subject.

 

Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix

Created and Produced by Martin I. Green

Illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz

Penguin USA, 1996

HC, 128 p. color, $34.95 (includes music CD)

Rob Salkowitz is a Seattle-based writer and authority on all manner of aging newsprint. You can e-mail your comments and queries to Rob at rob_comics@yahoo.com. Use "ComicBase" as the subject line.

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