Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie by Nejib Review

In 1969 David and Angie Bowie moved into Haddon Hall, a large Victorian house in suburban London, where a then-practically-unknown Bowie wrote some of his most famous songs (Life on Mars, Changes) and created his Ziggy Stardust persona that would propel him to superstardom and rock legend. 

Writer/artist Nejib’s graphic retelling of this time is a largely informative and very compelling read. It doesn’t sound like the most exciting book as not much happens – we meet his cold parents and schizophrenic half-brother Terry, David struggles to make it, he writes some music, famous people make cameos – nor does it have a driving narrative, but I was still gripped enough to fly through it in one sitting; maybe partially because I didn’t know much about Bowie’s early life but mostly because it’s just a well-told tale. 

The subtitle, “When David Invented Bowie”, is kind of disingenuous in that it’s not really focused on David creating a fictional persona but rather about the quiet period before the storm of success. His manager mentions to him that image is the most important thing and then, once you have the public’s attention, to wow them with the substance he clearly had – good advice as history proved – though that’s only a passing scene. Then in the last few pages we see Bowie watching Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and consequently decides to cut and colour his hair and adopt a raffish new look and that’s it – Ziggy Stardust is there and the book’s over! 

At the same time, someone asks him “Why ‘Bowie’?” as if he’d only just come up with the name even though he’d been calling himself David Bowie for years already (his real name was David Jones but he wanted to distinguish himself from the then-more famous Davy Jones of The Monkees). Obviously the subtitle is about when he realised the full package – the eye-catching image AND great music – but his transformation is rushed through in a handful of pages and is more of an afterthought. Unless watching the Kubrick movie really was all it took, but in that case why draw so much attention to such an underwhelming reveal? 

Nejib’s artwork looks unusual with crude line drawings, like a cross between the art of Ralph Steadman and John Lennon (who appears briefly in the book), and has no borders or panels on the page like most comics have. The style seems a bit amateurish at first but it works for the story, particularly given its partying, artistic, freewheeling ‘60s features. 

While I’d say the concept and execution is a bit unfocused, Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie is a very enjoyable glimpse into Bowie’s life at this time as an artist on the cusp of stardom.

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