Have you read Stephen King’s memoir “On Writing?” It’s one of the greatest books about writing ever fashioned – and by a guy many pan as not being a very good writer. King infuses all his writing, even this craft guide, with personal history and depth to make every moment a sheer delight to read, be it informative or entertaining. I wish I was reviewing that book because I’d have five stars all lined up for it; you really should check it out. However, I’m not reviewing that ode to prose glory, instead I’m looking over a comic that picks pieces from it like a scavenger bird over a month-old dead racoon.
You can’t really say this book is poorly written because most of it is just slabs of direct prose from King’s work. However, it is poorly assembled. Sections aren’t so much taken out of context as they are ineffectively used. Punchlines are fumbled like a drunk at the end of an unsuccessful date and moments are dropped in as if a pure glut of highlights will make a cohesive narrative. Admittedly, it would be hard to pack in 50 years of a man’s life into 22 pages. Perhaps editing could have focused the book and made us care, instead of throwing everything but the kitchen sink into the book.
The framing device is the brutal moment where a minivan smashes into a walking King. It was the accident that nearly killed him and so the comic obviously chooses to show it in glorious detail not once but twice. There isn’t room for decades worth of the man’s life but we get to see him turned upside-down by a moving vehicle from two different angles. It’s the sort of sensationalistic storytelling that makes you question whether the comic wants to shock you or inform you. It really doesn’t feel like it has the strength to do both.
It’s not all bad because some of it is so overplayed you can’t help but enjoy it. King’s childhood is rendered in almost mythic tones with his walkout father given a devil’s tongue and piercing red eyes. His face always obscured by shadow, he leaves the family behind without any cash and you know it’s bad because King’s older brother watches it happen while clutching his stomach full of hunger pains. It’d be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. The moment where a young King witnesses a friend get hit by a train includes one strange panel that actually adds something to the overall mood of the moment.
Watching a man type for decades would obviously be boring, and even though King’s life has been extremely interesting, this book decides to make everyone better-looking versions of themselves. I would have preferred to see King as the man-mountain he truly is rather than just some average guy. In the end, it’s the little things that don’t add up: King chucks out a failed manuscript with one page in the bin, he rides his motorbike into sobriety to play with an unexplained band, a strange lady in the crowd thinks about how cute King is in a creepy sort of way. These moments detract rather than add anything.
The art relies on snapshots like this is a montage rather than an actual story. If the book actually knew which way to fall, you could say this was a successful device used. Instead, this is like a simply sketched album of King’s life. The panels are layered on the page like photographs assembled, and many panels are crowded so no backgrounds are needed.
If you are a diehard fan of Stephen King you might enjoy this, but most likely you’ll just pick it apart for not being very good. If you aren’t a fan of King then I doubt this disjointed shuffle knows how to turn you into one. King has been written about many times over the years, and quite well most of the time, so this book has the esteemed honor of being both sub-par and superfluous. Unless you plan on making a drinking game out of it, avoid this book. Save your dollars for “On Writing.”