Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads by Nick Hayes

Categories: Books | Reviews

graphic novel

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.