BOOK REVIEW: Bob Marley in Comics by Sophie Blitman and Gaet’s

Bob Marley in Comics

The word “Reggae” has different connotations for various people, but for Bob Marley, the word didn’t even have African or Caribbean connotations, let alone Jamaican; Marley traced this word to Spain which means “King’s music”. Unless you are in the know, a fact like this will be something of a revelation. “Bob Marley in Comics” is a never-ending cycle of unexpected marvellous revelations about Bob Marley the person, his music, activism, Rastafari faith and humbleness.

Young Nesta Robert Marley is described as having a naturally “weak, plaintive voice”. He was not initially the lead singer of the band (that would eventually settle on the name of The Wailers) he co-founded and would come to lead. Nonetheless, despite having a knack for many other things such as palm reading and being a jack of many trades including welding, building his own instruments (Bob built his first guitar using a sardine can nailed to a piece for wood for the soundbox and a bamboo stick for the electrical wire), lab assistant, factory worker, parking attendant and dishwasher; music was his passion and Nesta would work tirelessly under Joe Higgs and Alvin Seeco Patterson to become a master reggae craftsman.

This chronologically ordered set of comics is largely narrated in a way as if Jamaicans are authentically telling Bob’s story. Joe Higgs narrates a chapter. Throughout the comics, one will broaden their vocabulary. Look out for “pickney” meaning kid, “duppy” meaning ghost and the word “blood clot” will prove useful. After a few comic chapters there is a two-page gap of writing which fills in the gaps from the previous chapters whilst providing a guide for the forthcoming comic chapters. On rare occasions, segments of information do not always precede a comic chapter when it should.

The Rastafari religion which Bob practised (attending Groundations (Rasta prayer meetings) would be a guiding light for him, however, his faith also made his battle with cancer (which he lost in 1981) more difficult. The reader will be fascinated to learn about the impact of Marcus Garvey and the 1930 crowning of the Emperor of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) who took the name, Hailee Selassie. The Rasta diet is an alcohol-free Ital diet consisting of natural plant-based foods and fish. Dreadlocks provide a main like the Lion of Judah. The symbolism of the red, gold and green is discussed. If you are expecting a Culture Club reference you will be disappointed.

Whilst The Wailers found fame relatively quickly earning their first number one in Jamaica in December 1963 when Marley was just eighteen; fortune (let alone financial security) would come much, much later. Even in 1971 when “Trench Town Rock” made Bob “a national hero” in Jamaica; it was not until Marley and The Wailers signed with Island records under Chris Blackwell did the band receive any advances. The first LP with Blackwell, Catch a Fire with just twenty thousand being produced in the form of a zippo lighter is a sought after collector’s item. Despite no advertising, Catch a Fire earned The Wailers a praiseworthy review from Rolling Stone magazine and a live appearance on the BBC “The Old Grey Whistle Test” television programme. The Wailers went on to open for Bruce Springsteen and Sly and the Family Stone. One of the biggest breaks came following Eric Clapton’s cover of “I Shot the Sheriff” in 1974 taken from The Wailers follow up LP to Catch a Fire: Burnin’.

International acclaim provided the opportunity for Bob to headline several of the most interesting and important gigs in history. The first of these was the 1976 Smile Jamaica concert organised by the then Jamaican president Michael Manley to eighty thousand people. Whilst the eighty thousand attendance is undoubtedly newsworthy (and not the biggest crowd Bob performed to during his lifetime); the assassination attempt on Marley and his wife beforehand also made it to print. In 1978, amidst political unrest in Jamaica, Bob performed the “One Love” peace concert at the National Stadium, Kingston where he got the Jamaican president Michael Manley and opposition leader Edward Seaga to join him on stage. In 1980 when Zimbabwe gained its independence from Britain, Bob not only played at the ceremony; he paid his own expenses for the privilege.

With each chapter being illustrated by a different artist and with each artist proving to be unique (by not trying to depict Marley too accurately as he appeared in photographs or as a posthumous graphic novel superhero); one sees illustrations which will continue to surprise and fascinate frequent comic book connoisseurs whilst representing Marley appropriately.

Whilst Bob was one of the first to perfect reggae music and gift reggae to the world; Bob’s musical tastes covered a wide spectrum from punk (particularly The Clash) to country, covering Claude Gray’s “I’ll Just Have a Cup of Coffee (Then I’ll Go)”.  “Bob Marley in Comics” coverage is exemplary, focusing on the challenges Bob faced being mixed race, his white father dying in childhood, Marley’s involvement in politics and the Jamaican political climate throughout his musical career, stories and people behind his most acclaimed hits, how he met his wife Rita (and her role as one of three backing singers called the I-Three’s in The Wailers), Bob’s extra-martial affairs, his children, working with Lee Scratch Perry, receiving cancer treatment by a former SS Officer, his legacy and much more. Through “Bob Marley in Comics” the writers and artists have successfully evolved and doubled up the humble comic book into a sacrosanct reference book.

 

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