We’ve seen a number of music-related graphic biographies appear over the last few months (such as Haddon Hall and California Dreamin’) and comics are a surprisingly good way to get a basic handle on someone’s life. As its title suggests, this particular biography is about Josephine Baker, the black American singer and dancer who suffered from racial segregation in the United States but found fame and fortune in France. Despite being most famous at the time for an exotic dance during which she wore little more than a skirt made of bananas, she became a vocal activist for equal rights: refusing to perform at shows that didn’t let black people into the audience; sharing a stage with Martin Luther King; and even working for the French resistance during World War II.
This adaptation feels like it flies through her extensive life, despite the comic’s 500 pages. The chapters are relatively short, separated by drawings of the buildings she lived and performed in, from the subsistence living of her childhood to the French chateaus she occupied in later life.
All the illustration is simple black and white, but it’s brimming with character, with Catel Muller’s simple lines capably managing a huge cast. As a potted history of a remarkable woman’s life, this is a surprisingly accessible read, particularly for such a large book. It’s a personal account with little commentary on what’s going on, which retrospectively feels like a light touch. However, it remains a fascinating glimpse into the life beyond the stage persona of a versatile entertainer whose life was so much more than the dancing she became most famous for.