November 27, 2020

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Finding the Man in the Painter’s Room

Many times, biography comics can be overly ambitious. They fall victim to trying to tell a story of a person in a format not suited for what the author is trying to say. This genre of comic can get lost within itself by telling a narrative, and visually it can quickly become hurried or rushed without spending enough time sitting with the subject at hand. This was anything but true in The Man in the Painter’s Room. In it we are allowed the time and the space necessary to properly get to know Van Gogh within a very small period of his life. 

Originally produced as a highly successful Kickstarter campaign in August of this year by author Jamison Odone, this Van Gogh biography (that’s set in his final years) is now available to purchase through the publisher’s website. It is a visually captivating story told through the course of 132 pages in intimate detail all based on the first-hand telling of an innkeeper’s daughter, one with whom Van Gogh had a special bond. 

Upon reading this graphic novel I realized how little I knew of Van Gogh beyond the many paintings that have become synonymous with his name. I knew very little about his person, or anything beyond the infamous cutting-off-of-the-ear story for that matter. The Man in the Painter’s Room spends every page and panel during those last years of his life; we see the moments where his cognitive capacity began slowly deteriorating. It was during this period in which he was described to be painting constantly and where he had an almost obsessive routine for things. In this time he was able to find refuge, first in the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint Remy de Provence, where he painted, and then at the Ravoux inn in Auvers-sur-Oise, France, where he also painted. Seventy-Five paintings later and we have the story at hand. Both settings served their purpose and granted him adequate space needed for the circumstance. Jamison Odone does a fantastic job utilizing the cognitive discrepancies between Van Gogh’s reality and the perceived one he finds himself in during this time. It is a somewhat disturbing and saddening story to see such a fantastic creator travel through an awful decline such as this, but Odone does it in a tasteful and rewarding way so that the reader finds inspiration from the pages rather than sorrow. 

We as readers learn many things about the mysteriousness that surround Van Gogh in this graphic depiction of the final act of Van Gogh’s life and Jamison Odone does a fantastic job keeping things relevant to his voice and interesting to the reader. He knew what he wanted to say about Van Gogh without having to tell the entire story of his life. Rather than leading with an origin story we find ourselves drifting down into the consciousness of Van Gogh’s mind, taking up space immediately without any reason for placement. And this is completely acceptable as the pages turn as you find yourself traveling seamlessly from one encounter of sorts to another. Odone succumbs to the temptation to mimic a completely saturated Van Gogh style as he tells the tragic story, but by doing so he also leans heavily (and probably intentionally) into the inspiration that comes with writing a book about Van Gogh. Whimsical recreations of recognizable pieces of art are found among the story while also among the handful of pages used to illustrate the periodic shifts in reality that our subject experienced during the declining moments at the end of his life. 

Narratively, this graphic novel is dealing with quite heavy subject matter that would otherwise drag down the mood of a room if it weren’t for the illustrational style and the uniquely dry, and sometimes dark humor of Odone. I found the storytelling choices of Odone very functional by inserting excerpts of letters between Van Gogh and others to help navigate the scene. Within these choices in format it made possible for awe-inspiring Van Gogh-esque splash pages to splice together handfuls of moments in the story. 

I really liked this one. I missed the Kickstarter campaign (which I’m more than slightly bummed about to say the least) but I’m bookmarking the publisher’s website as I write this so that I can get a copy of my own. This sort of story, told in the way that it is, has an ability to find a place within you so that it can be what you need when a specific oddity of circumstance is needed to motivate or encourage. Find your space. Find your weird. Find your canvas. Find you. Find the man in the painter’s room.

The Man In The Painter's Room
by Jamison Odone
Published by Black Panel Press