Review: ‘Bluesman’ by Vollmar & Callejo
By Rob Vollmar and Pablo G. Callejo
NBM, August 2008, $24.95
[[[Bluesman]]] was published once before, as three album-sized collections, but this is the first time the entire story has been collected between two covers. It’s a moody tale, told in black and white – but mostly in grays, from the background to the characters.
Lem Taylor is a blues guitarist, wandering through the rural Mississippi Delta in the late ‘20s, hungry and foot-sore. With him is a blues pianist, Ironwood Malcott, and together they make some excellent music. But that doesn’t put food in their bellies half the time, let alone a roof over the heads and a bed at night more than every so often.
As the book begins, their luck is beginning to look up: they get a decent gig at a popular juke house called Shug’s and are invited up to Memphis to record some sides by J.L. Dougherty, a traveling salesman who also acts as a talent scout.
But this is a blues story, so Lem can’t stay lucky for long. Ironwood dallies with a woman that he shouldn’t, and, all too quickly, there are dead bodies on the floor of a cabin. One of them is a white man – and, even worse, he’s the son of a powerful nearby landowner. Lem Taylor is on the run, on foot and alone.
And that’s where Sheriff Hal Beasley comes in – he’s white, of course, but he’s an honest man, and wants to do his job right. The cabin looks to him like a crime of passion, with all the participants now dead. But the locals, and especially the father of that dead white man, want to find a black man to string up for the crime. They know Lem ran away, and that’s as good as guilty to them.
In the best blues tradition, it feels inevitable and unstoppable – there’s no way Lem can escape the fate of being a poor man of the wrong color, fleeing racist bigots. And even Sheriff Beasley’s desire to see justice done and the truth come out is an awfully thin thing to place against the stupidity, racism, and just plain pig-headedness of his fellow men.
Bluesman is, as I said, a blues story; it follows the arc of a twelve-bar blues song – or at least that’s what the publisher says. And do blues songs have happy endings?
Vollmar has a good ear for dialogue, and enough familiarity with the Bible to make his characters fit into this very (outwardly) pious era. And Callejo brings a chiaroscuro sensibility, all scratchboard blacks, bleak grey washes, and occasional shocks of pure white. Bluesman might not be a happy story, but it’s a story well told.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
Publishers who would like their books to be reviewed at ComicMix should contact ComicMix through the usual channels or email Andrew Wheeler directly at acwheele (at) optonline (dot) net.