Having had too little time to devote to novels the past few weeks, I've been bingeing on graphic novels — short ones. While eating a bowl of cereal Sunday morning I read Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso (Hyperion, 2007). Already I'm itching for December to arrive, bringing this book with it. That's how anxious I am to put it in the hands of all customers at or over the age of 10.
Contrary to what its title might suggest, this graphic novel is not so much about Satchel Paige as it is about the miserably harsh conditions of life for blacks living under the divisive Jim Crow laws of the American South. Narrating the story is Emmet Wilson, a fictional Alabama sharecropper who once scored a run against the legendary pitcher of the Negro Leagues. Permanently benched due to injury, he now picks cotton under the watchful eye of two vindictive white landowners who would just as soon root for a team called the "Yankees" as show any kindness toward him and his son. Much of the plot hinges on the tension that builds along the racial divide in Emmet's town, but its black and white residents do share one thing in common: an awestruck regard for the pitching talents of Satchel Paige. It's his eventual appearance on their hometown field that brings this story to a heady climax and a powerful conclusion.
Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow is the second book Hyperion has published in collaboration with the Center for Cartoon Studies. Their first joint venture, Houdini, The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi, was an entertaining and interesting look at one particular stunt in the life of the world's most famous escapologist. I enjoyed Houdini, but not half as much as Satchel Paige. Sturm and Tomasso's collaboration is the real thing: a compelling narrative, a strong voice, solid illustrations, and the perfect pacing to move the story along but keep you, in places, on the edge of your seat. At less than 100 pages, it's a short read, but in the time it'll take you to complete it you'll feel the range and strength of emotions it would take most prose writers twice as long to convey. The last four pages of the book offer detailed notes on what's contained in the story's panels, helping to account for some of the real-world events that informed this story's fictional one.
I love this book. I love its deeply human message and I love the window on American history that Sturm and Tommaso are opening for their readers. Through it we see just how much the sport of baseball and one of its stars meant to a generation of blacks who were barely allowed to play the game of life, let alone win at it.
That’s great to hear you discuss graphic novels. I’ve just been getting into them the last few years (mainly with adult fiction only), but I just bought “The Fog Mound, Book One: Travels of Thelonious.” I only read a few pages at the bookstore, but it looks great.
How exciting! The Center for Cartoon Studies is right down the street from my office in White River Junction, and I often see James Sturm around town, and it’s such a thrill to see his vision and work taking off the way it has!