On Nov. 10, Kanye West’s graphic memoir Through the Wire will hit shelves. Billed as “a one-of-a-kind book that initially grabs you and stays with you forever,” West’s book
illustrates the lyrics of twelve Kanye West songs to tell his story, from his decision to drop out of college to pursue his dreams in music, through his days spent folding chinos at the Gap while struggling at night to make a name as a producer, through the pivotal car accident that eventually set him on the course to stardom. . .
Illustrations are by Bill Plympton, whose short film, “Your Face,” was nominated for an Academy Award in 1987. The title of the memoir comes from West’s 2003 single of the same title (off album “The College Dropout”), which the rapper recorded with his jaw wired shut after being injured in a car accident.
A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (Josh Neufeld’s nonfiction graphic book about Katrina) was riveting – “a fully emotional, multi-dimensional experience,” as I wrote on The Book Case a couple months ago. Both the graphics and the text were powerful illustrations of the experiences of seven New Orleans residents during the hurricane. Honestly, I couldn’t put the book down. And I don’t think the story would have held my attention as closely had it not been illustrated.
I’m skeptical that a book of illustrated lyrics will hold the same power, although I’ll reserve judgment until I see the memoir in person. (Perhaps I’ve been negatively swayed because West has admitted that he doesn’t read books – just writes them.) I think the best graphic novels – like A.D. – are deliberate and restrained with their text, which is supported by stunning visuals. I’m curious to see how lyrics (presumably written without illustrations in mind) will translate in this medium.
For more on graphic memoirs, read Becky Ohlson's fascinating interview with David Small, whose illustrations in Stitches are "both roomy and precise, with lots of open space in and around the panels but an intensity of focus."
And for readers: What do you think makes a successful graphic novel? Are there any subjects you’d like to see depicted in this form? Are any West fans looking forward to Through the Wire?