Read This Now: Sentences

20 Oct

Sentences
While this is not intended to be a book review blog, a comic review blog, or, really, any other kind of review blog, one of its intents is to cover interesting culture clashes and juxtapositions that have unintended results (hence the title). One of the highlights of a sick day Friday that ballooned into a sick weekend was catching up on reading, and Percy “MF Grimm” Carey’s autobiographical comic Sentences certainly delivers both of the above in abundance.

Hip-hop has always drawn on comics for inspiration. Countless MCs raided the back issues of comics for imagery, stage names (Dr. Octagon, MF Doom, various Wu-Tang members at any given point…), and cover art.
Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force

Unfortunately, most attempts to formally merge the two, especially in the comics field, have turned up results that are pretty embarassing. If KISS formed the baseline for what can be expected when musicians attempt to branch out into comics, then the last thirty years haven’t shown much improvement. Which is unfortunate, given that both hip-hop and comics are both artforms that have long struggled to be taken seriously as art, and every time a Maus or a Blueprint gets positive critical attention, “Laffy Taffy” and Rob Liefield have to go ruin it for everyone.

With the bar set that low, it might seem a minor triumph merely to make a comic that’s not aggressively awful. However, in artist Ronald Wimberly, Carey found the perfect collaborator, someone who could visually match the gritty tone of Grimm’s lyrics. Working in black and white as an aesthetic choice rather than a budgetary one (publisher Vertigo is owned by Time Warner), Wimberly mostly adds details only as needed, letting the words speak for themselves, but also shows himself to be adept at large set pieces, such as the opening shootout where the bullets, blood, and snowflakes assault the page with equal measure.

Yes, opening shootout. Sentences covers a lot of ground (virtually Carey’s entire life), from his early days as a child actor on Sesame Street, to his time on the West Coast working with Dr. Dre and Suge Knight, to his tragic downward spiral that put him in a wheelchair, and later prison. Though now a free man, Carey remains paralyzed. While he covers too much ground to go into in a review, suffice to say that Carey’s led an eventful life, and it’s easy to see why an editor would want him to tell his story (a fact which he mentions mystifies him). Additionally, the first-person narration, which would be feel like a heavy-handed device in a fictional comic, works well in an autobiography, especially from someone used to a format as conversational as hip-hop.

As compelling as Carey’s story is, it’s not without it’s flaws. He pays great attention to his collaborations with MF Doom, but glosses over their highly publicized falling-out. While the tragedies in his life are at times unimaginable, his explanations for them also seem self-serving at times. Additionally, whether for legal reasons, fear of retribution, or a binding contract, Carey also redacts the names of various parties in the comic (antagonists and collaborators alike), and although it’s hard to fault the author for this choice, it also creates some awkward gaps in the narrative.

Still, despite these blemishes, Sentences still manages to gracefully take two worlds that had long admired each other from afar, and make a work of arts that stands on its own as something other than a curiosity. It’s about damn time.

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