Review By Patrick Scattergood
Art and Cover By
Self Made Hero
The turbulent life of Vincent van Gogh continues to serve as a source of inspiration for many people.
In this graphic novel, artist and writer Barbara Stok takes the reader on a journey to the brief and intense period of time that the painter spent in the south of France.
Vincent dreams of setting up an artists' house in Arles for himself and his friends. However, his attacks of mental illness confuse and disorient him, culminating in the notorious incident with his ear and leaving his dreams shattered.
Throughout all of this, Vincent's brother Theo stands by him, offering constant and unconditional support.
Van Gogh was passionate about his art. His ideas about success, setbacks and how to create a meaningful life provide an interesting counterpoint to our age of individualism and commercialism.
Stok has succeeded in turning the experiences of this 19th-century artist into a story that is relevant to our own times.
I've always been interested in both the life of Van Gogh and his supremely beautiful art as well as how it came from such a pained soul as his. I've read biographies, critical essays and even watched movies and documentaries about the great man so when I was given the chance to read this graphic novel, I was incredibly excited to see just how Barbara Stok would tell his tragic story.
The first thing that struck me about this graphic novel is just how beautiful it looks. The style of art reminded me a little bit of the art in the 'Tin Tin' books by Herge. It's colorful and sometimes cartoon nature really brought the story to life in such a vivid way that I spent ages just looking at the panels on the page.
Using such a bright and colorful motif in the graphic novel was an incredibly brave and unique move by Stok, who also illustrated this look at the legendary artists life as well as writing it. Her obvious skill and eye for color really bring the story to life and when Van Gogh inevitably falls in to his great moods of depression and self harm, the bright colors are such a contrast to the darkness of what is happening in his mind that each and every scene are memorable. When he succumbs to his infamous moment involving his ear, the beauty of the art makes it even more heartbreaking than it already was.
Talking of beautiful, the writing here more than does the life story of Van Gogh justice. In fact, the tragic story becomes even more heartbreaking and I found myself tearing up many times and just wanting someone to hug the man himself and tell him it will be OK. The way Stok includes the letters to and from Van Gogh's brother Theo is a master stroke of brilliance. Sometimes they're in stark contrast to what is happening in the art set during the panels and other times they do a superb job of underscoring the pain and suffering.
After reading the book of Van Gogh's letters, which I also reviewed on this site, I was wondering how they could come in to play within the format of a graphic novel but like I said, they are used in such a breath taking way that I couldn't help but well up when I was reading them.
It was obvious that this graphic novel was an intense labor of love for Barbara Stok. Van Gogh is such a tragic yet brilliant figure that sometimes people fall in to the trap of creating him in to some sort of saintly figure but that's not true here. He is soon for all his flaws yet also still as an intensely sympathetic and sensitive soul.
I honestly can't recommend this look at the life of the legendary Vincent van Gogh high enough. Not only is one of the best biographies of one of the best artists that the world has ever had the pleasure of seeing but it is also one of the best graphic novels that I have read not only recently but since I became a fan of the comic book genre itself. I'm not normally one for hyperbole but this release by the superb Self Made Hero is well deserving of every mark that I have given it.