Today I picked up Me and the Devil Blues – The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson, by Akira Hiramoto.
So first, it’s a fictionalized version of Robert Johnson’s life, where he sells his soul to the Devil to become an awesome blues musician… maybe. Like a lot of horror/psychological thriller stories, you’re never 100% sure what’s going on- maybe his hand really did grow 10 fingers, or maybe it’s in his head. Maybe the old guy Ike really is the Devil, or maybe he’s just an old guy. These ambiguous mysteries make the story a great read, as well as the research that Hiramoto went into for the time period.
Second, I’m impressed with the way in which Robert is the protagonist, he’s always a flawed, everyman who just gets himself in too deep, not a magical negro (weird music powers or not). For the first third of the book, not even a single white character shows up. It is, literally, the life of black folks in their own world. You see bits of manga tropes pop up though- old blues players passing down koan like tests for Robert, blues duels where the fingers fly across the pager and it makes it the most intense thing you’ve ever seen.
Now, this doesn’t mean this book doesn’t have some problematic stuff. For example, the black women are always yelling. And I’m not sure how true to the author’s original intent is “Shut yo’ mouth!” which shows up a lot. I’d really like to read another volume or two and see if he balances things out in the longer run or if it’s just problematic stuff for it’s own sake. Just the same, it’s still painfully better and more accurate than what mainstream US comics have been doing, so you may or may not give it a pass.
Nonetheless, it’s a 525 page manga for $20, and I’m hoping that we get to see more volumes. Apparently, it’s doing well enough in Japan that it’s been running for 4 years straight.