Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Reader's Diary #1349 - Jon Eastman (writer), Gian Fernando (artist): Escape from Alcatraz 2 Presumed Dead

At the end of the amazingly well-done Alcatraz tour, we ended up (of course) in the gift shop (which must seem like a surreal idea in itself for those still living who first encountered the place as a functioning prison). There were souvenirs-a-plenty, but I think I struck gold with the Escape from Alcatraz series of comic books.

I was skeptical at first. I've read enough educational comics to know that they can be... shall we say, less than stellar? Still, a quick glance through a copy suggested that the art at least was good and at 3 for $15, it didn't feel like too much of a risk. Plus, my Kobo broke while on vacation, so I needed something to read on the flight home. I wound up buying 6.

Now my only regret is now getting all 14. They were that good. Hopefully they'll wind up compiling them all in a graphic novel format.

Each documented escape attempt gets its own comic (presented chronologically), and the 2nd, Presumed Dead, by Jon Eastman and Gian Fernando, details the 1935 escape by Ted Cole and Ralph Roe.

Fernando's art is mostly in the vein of pseudo-realism familiar to superhero comics. Still, the sepia, subdued tones helps mark the book as historical while also capturing the drab life of prison. There are also a few creative flourishes here or there, that add to the story. In one panel, after hearing about how the only daydream anyone ever had there was to escape, there's a silhouette of a man standing near the bars in his cell. The next panel has that exact panel copied into a 2 x 2 sequence, and the next in a 4 x 4 sequence. It's a powerful way of showing the institutional effect on all of the prisoners.

None of the prisoners, nor their escape attempts, are glamourized in these titles but their various personalities still come through, sometimes by fact alone, sometimes by artistic touch. In the case of Ted and Ralph, Ralph comes across as the less repulsive of the two. In any case, these comics are more about the ingenuity and bravery/naivete of desperate men.

Ted and Ralph are of the very few whose escape attempts were not foiled by others. That said, their success is dubious and most assume they drowned.

No comments: