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Ballad of an American:  A Graphic History of Paul Robeson, by Sharon Rudhal.

July 7, 2020

Ballad of an American
Ballad of an American:  A Graphic History of Paul Robeson, by Sharon Rudhal.  Edited by Paul Buhle and Lawrence Ware. Rutgers University Press,  2020.

Forthcoming: October 2020.

3 stars

A valuable graphic account of a multi-talented African American best known for his incredible singing voice and his radical activism.

Sharon Rudahl (1947- ) was among the first women to become involved in underground comics in the early 1970s.   She has continued to create and publish them ever since.  One of her most well-known is her graphic biography about Emma Goldman.  Her editors, Paul Buhle and Lawrence Ware, are experts on race and the American labor movement and give credibility to her biography of Robeson.

Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was a major African American leader of the early twentieth century, especially before the rise of the Civil Rights Movement.  Because his activism and his devotions to unpopular causes, he is less well known than he deserves.  After graduating from Rutgers University where he was a premier athlete, he became widely known for his great talents as an actor and singer.  He performed in both America and Europe where he created a major presence with his African American portrayals.  Because of his support of Communism, he was politically and violently attacked during the Cold War.  He responded with bravery.

I am thrilled to see a new graphic novel about Robeson.  I hope it is widely read.  I do wish that it had been easier to read and appreciate.  Having read the book as an ebook, I found the pictures and text too small to be read and appreciated easily.  I hope this is less true in hard copy.  Yet the problem was not simply the size.  I felt that the graphic form did not lend itself to so much information about Robeson and the world in which he acted.   While accurate and relevant, the sheer volume of words and pictures acted against the power of the graphic format.  I simply wish it had been more focused and concise.

I recommend this biography of Robeson as an important even if it could have been better executed.

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