GRAPHIC NOVEL WEEK
Youssef Daoudi’s Monk! is about as close to jazz music in literary form as you can get.
On the surface, this story is relatively simple – this is a biography of jazz genius, Thelonius Monk. But just as any life in general and the life of a black jazz musician in the 1940’s-1960’s decades is hardly simple, this book weaves a circuitous path to tell the story. Our narrators are Monk and Pannonica de Koenigswarter (a baroness who had been a long-time friend a patron to Monk) in other-worldly, often depressing, scenes, recalling various important moments in a life filled with important moments.
This book is clearly a labor of love and it wouldn’t surprise me if it had taken an extremely long time to put together, getting each nuance and each frame of art just right. And yet there is an unmistakable sense of improvisation here as well, just the way jazz would be played. But make no mistake – it’s just the sense of improv – this book is tightly written.
As with the story, the art is … jazz. There’s a looseness in the art that mirrors the “flexible rhythmic understructure” (from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition definition) of jazz.
I will say that when I first started this book, the style of art was just a little off-putting for me – a little confusing. But I set it aside and came back to it a few days later and was much more open to the infusion of jazz in both the art and the story.
I’ve listened to plenty of Monk’s music, but my knowledge of his life was next to nothing before reading this. It’s a fascinating story and the platonic(?), long-term relationship with Pannonica is odd and lovely and one can’t help but wonder what Monk’s music might have been like without this support, this muse, in his life.
This is not only one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in some time, this is one of the finest books I’ve read, period. Give it a read.
Looking for a good book? Monk! by Youssef Daoudi, is a graphic novel about Thelonius Monk and is a remarkable achievement in blending biography, art, and the sense of Monk’s jazz, into one book.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
* * * * * *
Monk!: Thelonious, Pannonica, and the Friendship Behind a Musical Revolution
author: Youssef Daoudi
artist: Youssef Daoudi
publisher: First Second Books
hardcover, 352 pages