Woody Guthrie’s life as a graphic novel

Dec 2, 2014

Many books have been written about Woody Guthrie and photographs of the Dust Bowl are recognized around the world. Now there is a graphic novel, Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads, that tells the story of Guthrie with imagined dialogue and stark, sepia colored illustrations.  

It's a wonderful achievement that beats with a love for Guthrie's music and America's natural beauty, and rages at inequality. - The Guardian

The author is Nick Hayes, a highly regarded British graphic novelist best known for The Rime of the Modern Mariner, an updating of Coleridge’s famous poem, and as founding editor of Meat magazine, a periodical showcasing new writing, comics and illustration.

Hayes’ fictionalized biography covers Guthrie’s life from his teenage years to 1940, with much of it set in the Texas Panhandle and Oklahoma.  He draws on stories that are well documented in autobiographies and biographies.  But, in an interview with DigitalSpy, Hayes notes that, “all the conversations are made up, and used to serve not the biographical facts of Guthrie, but rather the themes of the book.”  He goes on in the interviews to explain:

"What I wanted to do was use Woody's eyes and ethics to take a look at a particular time in American history, the Dust Bowl. It was a time that mirrors ours, not only in terms of economic crash and wealth inequality, but also in terms of my main focus in the book, of capitalism's relationship with ecology. The book is really a study of land rights, notions of trespassing and folk song."

The book is published by Jonathan Cape, part of Vintage Publishing of the Random House Group UK and available from Britain through Amazon UK.

Credit Nick Hayes / Jonathan Cape
The sepia artwork gives the book the tones and hues of the dusty land that it describes. That ubiquitous dust scatters and settles among the leaves of the book. Like the vast skies of the plains, the double page spreads are a thing to sit and wonder at. -- welovethisbook.com