Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book (W.W. Norton 2009 hardcover $27) comes out July 17 in the US. It's the latest in a newfangled genre of graphic nonfiction bios. The range of subjects is stunning: from Malcolm X to J.Edgar Hoover. And most are of amazing quality: crisp and informative narrative, vivid artwork, clean lettering. This bio of Mandela is likewise amazing, appropriate for all ages. But what sets it apart is that is a collaboration. The author is the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The artist is Umlando Wezithombe. Umlando is a group, not a person. A collective of many young South African artist-illustrators. Imagine what you'd have in the typical American graphic novel/sequential art orbit: superstar writers, tempermental artists, anal retentive letterers and inkers coming together, eschewing money arguments and ego? Ha! But it happened here. All for the love of this man. Listen, it took 35 years and a civil war's interruption to build the obelisk to our comparable icon--George Washington.
The book steps over but doesn't leap-frog controversy (ANC violence, ties to Communism, ANC corruption and the elephant in the room--Winnie Mandela). Likewise, the narrative is more episodic rather than a straight line from birth to prison to freedom and detente with De Klerk to the split with Winnie to the marriage to the First lady of Mozambique to the formation of the Foundation. By necessity, most graphic bios don't have that leeway. Imagine David McCullough's John Adams in this form. You can't? Well this is why the story must arc in this manner. Here, the story doesn't suffer. Here, the story shines, figuratively.
As for the art, even the lettering and quality of the panels, the word is shine. Literally. It's hard to imagine that a group, not an individual, created this from penciling to inking.
The book is wonderful for younger people, yet retains a look and read adults will appreciate and enjoy. Fanboys and girls will like this too. Nothing amateurish about it. Indeed, it may be the first graphic coffeetable book, which is not a bad thing given our seeming revulsion to things educational in some circles.
So impress your friends this summer. And learn something.