BOOK REVIEW: Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic Novel

To coincide with the twenty-fifth anniversary since the release of Nirvana’s final studio album In Utero, XS Noize is paying homage to Nirvana’s frontman Kurt Cobain by reviewing the far too short (just twenty-seven years) yet mesmerising, tragic and elating life of Kurt Cobain. As XS Noize has demonstrated previously with other artists like Johnny Cash; there is probably no better way to tell Kurt’s story than through the forum of the graphic novel.

Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic is preceded by a written introduction (not in graphic novel format) by Peter Doggett. Doggett explains how the media used Kurt to epitomise the “Generation X slacker phenomenon” and how Cobain’s band Nirvana were “a badge of authenticity in an age of emptiness”. As well as the main graphic, there is also an appendix celebrating the best of Kurt’s sketches and artwork. Godspeed is written through Kurt’s eyes who is also the narrator. Kurt starts at the beginning: his own childhood growing up in Aberdeen, a northwest logging town in the USA. Kurt enjoyed playing the drums on his Bozo Bear drum kit and with his imaginary friend Boddah (who eventually leaves him) who helps Kurt explore the potential of his imagination. Kurt reflects upon being a hyperactive child prescribed with Ritalin.

Although Kurt recalls happy memories of his parents such as his mum reading him bedtime stories and his dad reassuring him when he had nightmares; more attention is devoted to his parent’s unhappy marriage which ended in divorce when Kurt was nine. The hatred Kurt felt would grow. He would not adapt well to his parent’s new partners. Kurt used his favourite word “Motherfucker” to describe his mother’s new boyfriend. Our narrator then moves the story forward to when he was a fourteen-year-old adolescent. Despite being on drugs, we see a young man who is a deft artist and talented amateur filmmaker. He gets arrested for spraying graffiti protesting against homophobic attitudes. When detained in custody he draws pornography for his fellow inmate in exchange for cigarettes.

Kurt then moves onto the music. He talks about how he met bassist and fellow founding member of Nirvana Krist Novoselic at school. Kurt describes Nirvana’s early writing as “trying to rip off The Pixies”. Their first drummer was not Dave Grohl but Dave Foster. The band were not an overnight success. Many of their early gigs were overshadowed with vitriolic heckling. Seldom time or explanation is given as to how the band turned things around; our narrator just says the band eventually “got good”. Kurt recalls joyfully his UK success, particularly the Reading Festival performances.

The narrator also discusses his personal life beginning with his “first real girlfriend” Tracey who he reflects as someone who was good to him, his short-lived relationship with Tobi Vali (Bikini Kill) and Courtney Love. The narrator reflects with sadness that he never really knew what “love” meant.  Whilst the success of Nevermind is justly documented with pride (knocking Michael Jackson off the top spot of the album charts) and how Nirvana got kicked out of their own launch party for Nevermind, with the exception of his marriage to Courtney Love and the birth of his daughter Frances; the majority of Kurt’s life events from this point are filled with sadness and self-destructive behaviour impacting on those around him: those he loved and cared for the most.

Although he suffered with stomach problems from childhood which worsened partly to straining his vocals; it was his ongoing drug use which was the most significant single contributory factor. His drug use resulted in weight loss, cancellation of many Nirvana tour dates and near-fatal episodes. His daughter would be briefly taken away by social services. Despite recalling fun moments recording In Utero; Kurt’s strained relationship with In Utero producer Steve Albini is given equal attention.

Cobain is fairly championed as a warrior who stood up to the “homophobic atmosphere of an isolated American town” who openly associated himself with gay friends even when this brought him repercussions. Godspeed also justly explores how Kurt “emphasised” his feminine side and did everything to ensure his marriage to Courtney Love was “never built around traditional male power play”.  Whilst Kurt is described as someone who “never betrayed his responsibilities”; Cobain struggled to fulfil them. Courtney Love is described by the narrator as being more worried about Kurt when she was in labour with their child.

Barnaby Legg, Jim McCarthy And Flameboy collectively allow Kurt to narrate his story in an interesting free-flowing manner captivating the reader, prohibiting readers from getting bored or putting the graphic down. The authors and artists allow Kurt to celebrate his achievements and talent whilst explaining his addiction, mental health issues, dark events and episodes throughout his life with dignity and without needlessly making the reader feel uncomfortable or disturbed.

Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic is available for purchase via https://www.omnibuspress.com/Product.aspx?ProductId=711811

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