Monday, December 20, 2010

Book Review: The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam

One of the first things I did back in town was go to the public library (and discover that I should've checked online to find out that Guardian of the Dead was at a different library) and I briefly browsed the comic section and came across this book. The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam is a memoir that's mainly pictures and mini comics, hence why it was in the comic section, but I picked it up since it covers Long Tack Sam's life throughout the 20th century and that really caught my fancy.

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie Fleming
Summary: Ann Marie Fleming decides to research her great-grandfather, the Chinese magician Long Tack Sam, on a whim and ends up traveling all over the world talking to dozens of people and wondering why the rest of her family has forgotten this peace of history.

The Good: The book was easy reading and the history in it was quite interesting. The 20th century was simply filled with strange and dangerous times and since the story focuses on a Chinese magician/acrobat who is traveling the western world while preforming it's a very interesting lens to look at history from. The prejudices of the time, the people they encountered and the feeling that the world marches on no matter what (like with WWII and the unrest in China) made both Long Tack Sam and to an extent Ann feel like very real people.

The Bad: I think I've mentioned it before but it's harder to review nonfiction since, well, you can't complain about the characters, the setting, or even the pacing in some cases because it's real life. I can say that Ann ended up talking to so many people (and even had so many people in her family) that that became confusing towards the end and I wish she had a list or a chart in the back to keep them straight (there was some family tree but it just showed how many guys and gals of her family were in each country and didn't give names).

The Art: Apparently this was originally a Sundance film (which makes sense considering the author/narrator says that she's a filmmaker) and I think this didn't work as well as a book. The arranging of the panels was a bit confusing at times (much more so than many webcomics I read) and the author didn't seem to have well, any artistic skill. She used a stick figure (literally, I'm not using hyperbole) to represent herself and that was really jarring considering that most of the panels were stills from the film, posters, or in a few places actual comics drawn by someone else. Visually I felt the book didn't work and, since it's an illustrated memoir this is a pretty big problem.

I wish I had seen the film version of this instead of the book since I really was interested in the story but the visuals just didn't work that well for me. I'd certainly recommend the book to anyone who likes this kind of story but not to people who like comics more than real books. It reminded me a bit of Japan Ai: A Tall Girl's Adventures in Japan (really need to get that because it was published by the now defunct Go Comi!) but Japan Ai managed to combine the images and words in a much smoother fashion.