Saturday, 17 October 2015

Capote in Kansas Review (Ande Parks, Chris Samnee)


In November 1959, two ex-convicts, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, murdered four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, a crime for which they would eventually be executed in 1965. The murders caught the attention of writer Truman Capote who would go on to immortalise the matter in his masterpiece, In Cold Blood. 

You might remember a couple of exceptional films that came out 10 years ago - Capote and Infamous (the former was the film that the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar for that year) - that chronicled Capote researching and writing his book. So now we have Capote in Kansas, a “drawn novel” (that’s definitely not pretentious…) because I guess this story hasn’t been told in comics form yet? 

If you’ve not read In Cold Blood or seen those movies, I highly recommend them - they’re dark but tell a riveting story. And if you haven’t then Ande Parks and Chris Samnee’s Capote in Kansas might be a bit puzzling as it doesn’t explain what happened very well. The crime is presented in a way that makes it feel a bit obscure and events are very choppy - Harper Lee (who had a profound effect on the final book) disappears suddenly early on, the murderers are caught, and Capote very quickly goes from being shunned by the townsfolk to being welcomed. 

But as Parks says in his afterword, he didn’t set out to retell the story, he just wanted to show the difficulties Capote had in writing it. Parks does one thing differently which is adding the character of Nancy Clutter, the teenage girl who was murdered, who appears as a ghost to talk with Capote. It’s a little hokey and the premise of seeing Capote struggle with the writing is a bit flimsy, but it’s not a bad read, especially if you’re familiar with the case and the people involved. 

Superman artist Chris Samnee swaps fictional Smallville, Kansas, for real Holcomb County, Kansas bringing the small town atmosphere to life and presents brilliant black and white pages, a suitably gritty and noir-ish approach for such a grim story. The characters’ faces look very naturally expressive showing great skill from Samnee. 

Capote in Kansas is a fine supplement to those readers who’ve read In Cold Blood and seen the many films associated with the book and case - but it adds nothing of note that hasn’t already been covered in other media. Sure Capote struggled in writing it but that’s clear in all biographies of the writer and all the movies - did it need an entire comic, sorry, “drawn novel” to repeat that? Not really. It’s a decent book but it’s wholly peripheral.

Capote in Kansas

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