This sumptuous graphic novel documents and dramatises the life of the legendary Woody Guthrie, a musician who continues to fascinate and influence to this day, nearly fifty years after his death. He wrote hundreds of folk songs, many of them documenting his experiences in the dust bowl era during the Great Depression. Guthrie traveled with the displaced farmers from Oklahoma to California, learning their traditional folk and blues songs along the way.
Guthrie’s life was nothing short of dramatic, dogged by fires that killed many family members, then the hereditary Huntington’s disease saw off his mother and eventually went on to be the demise of Woody himself. He fathered eight children and was married three times, he was associated with communism and had ‘this machine kills fascists’ written on his guitar. Later in life he mentored Bob Dylan and has influenced everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Billy Bragg.
The graphic novel is a perfect vehicle to dramatise such a larger than life character, and Nick Hayes has produced an immersive and beautiful book that does real justice to the Guthrie legacy. Hayes’ illustrative style captures the look of the era magically, his linework dips into the characters psyches and come up trumps. A graphic novel is not just the images, lettering and colouring – in many ways it is a more difficult medium to get right than a straightforward book. Nick has got it emphatically right, and Jonathan Cape has gone to town on the design and production of the book, a good solid hardback that should be shown off.
Nick Hayes is a writer and illustrator who lives in East London. His first graphic novel was ‘The Rime of the Modern Mariner’, was published in 2011. His cartoons appear in the Guardian and New Statesman.