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Stagger Lee News and a Review

Derek McCulloch and Shepherd Hendrix will be appearing from 3pm to 6pm today, March 27th, on Bill Wax’s Bluesville show on XM Radio. Bill will be playing every version of Stagger Lee he can lay his hands on and Derek and Shepherd will be discussing the history and myth of Stagger Lee. I figure now would be a nice time to give my take on McCulloch and Hendrix’s book, Stagger Lee, which was nominated for six Glyph Awards this year (speaking of the Glyph Awards, click here to vote on the Glyph Fan Award for Best Comic).

And if you can get past my thoughts on the book, I’ll let you in on more appearances that McCulloch and Hendrix will be making!

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In case you are unfamiliar with the work, Stagger Lee is a novel in two separate, yet connected, parts. On the one hand, it is a fictionalized account of the late 19th century trial of “Stagger Lee” Shelton for the murder of Billy Lyons. On the other hand, it is an examination of how the song about Stagger Lee grew and changed over the years.

However, as is often the case when you make a split like this, you run the risk of one aspect of the book outweighing the other, and here, the idea of studying the history of the song “Stagger Lee” is just so fascinating and captivating that it really makes the fictionalized history lesson that makes up the rest of the book look pretty boring in comparison.

This is not to say that the story of the trial IS boring. It isn’t. It is a well-structured enough tale, featuring some pretty good characters, but none of it is all that unique. Not only that, but I personally have a bit of an issue with the character who “invents” the Stagger Lee song, who is involved in a tragic romance in the book. For a book that takes so much time paying attention to facts and making the story flow logically and historically, it seemed almost silly to just add this new character (and his ensuing connections to the other people in the story) wholesale. It reminds me of when films just add on a romantic subplot to historical stories – it seems a bit hokey.

Still, none of it is BAD, per se, so it does not seriously distract from the sections detailing the history of the song itself, which are so fascinating that this book is still quite worth reading. I must confess to already being quite familiar with the song before reading the book (as Bob Dylan covered it in the 90s, natch), but even with the knowledge I had of the song, there were still plenty of utterly captivating facets of the song’s evolution for me to learn.

In addition, I have to credit McCulloch and Hendrix for the sheer bravery of trying an idea this clever in graphic novel format. This is the exact type of project comic books need more of – not just books willing to take on a topic in an inventive and scholarly manner – but simply books willing to do something different from all the other comics out there. This is truly a unique work.

Shepherd Hendrix’ artwork on the book is very crisp and detailed, with strong linework. This was a return to comic book work for Hendrix, and I’m glad we have him back (although I wasn’t thrilled with his version of Dylan in the book!).

In any event, as a complete work, I would definitely recommend Stagger Lee. It is a very good book.

Now here are those other McCulloch/Hendrix appearances I promised (courtesy of a press release I got, natch)!

On Wednesday, March 28, 2 p.m.-4 p.m., they will be signing at Big Planet
Comics, 4908 Fairmont Avenue, Bethesda, MD.

On Thursday, March 29, 11:20 a.m.-12:40 p.m., they will be doing their
Stagger Lee slide show for the students of Prof. Bill Foster’s class on
Graphic Novels as Literature at Naugatuck Valley Community College in
Waterbury, Connecticut. Visitors welcome! 750 Chase Parkway, Ekstrom Hall,
Room E440.

On Friday, March 30, 7 p.m.- 8 p.m., they will do the slide show again at
Barnes & Noble Chelsea, 675 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10010. The Q&A will
be moderated by world-renowned diva of comics, Heidi MacDonald.

As always on the Stagger Lee 101 tour: wear a Stetson hat, win a prize!

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