Usually, the term “cartoon character” is not a compliment, and Elliott Smith has often been turned into one in articles, books, and movies: the sad-sack or tortured artist who wrote depressing music and killed himself. It’s an unfortunate, reductive, simplistic, and inaccurate narrative for lazy people who have never paid attention to nuances and details.
In the upcoming graphic novel by Italian cartoonist Antonio Rossetti, aka Holdenaccio, Elliott Smith is a cartoon character, but he has never been more alive. “Elliott Smith – Going Nowhere” is a new biography – yes you can call it like that – which follows the indie rocker from his childhood in Texas to his death in Los Angeles in 2003. Written with a great sensibility and remarkable attention to detail, the book will certainly be a must-have for the musician’s numerous fans.
In a very cinematic manner, the book opens with Elliott’s nervous performance at the Grammy Awards ceremony in 1998, and in a flashback, we immediately plunge into the childhood chapter and Steven (Elliott’s real name) celebrating his 9th birthday in Duncanville, Texas. He is missing his father who lives in Portland, but his dad nevertheless sends him a guitar. Young Steven gets his musical education from Ferdinand the bull – the famous Munro Leaf character who became one of Elliott’s tattoos. Ferdinand, who was already a cartoon, becomes a character in the novel while Steven’s stepfather, Charlie Welch, has the appearance of the angry character Heat Miser, from the 1974 stop motion animated Christmas television special – while Heatmiser was, of course, Elliott’s most well-known band before his solo career.
Between listening to Big Star, the Beatles and Hank Williams with Ferdinand and going to church with his half-siblings, between his parents’ divorce and his stepfather’s anger, Elliott’s childhood is depicted with great attention to detail, and little by little, we begin to see his personality shine: like Ferdinand, Elliott would prefer to smell the flowers, and root for the underdog in a world obsessed with winners and personal success.
However, Antonio is not afraid to tell the entire story, and Charlie Welch’s abuse is even subtly evoked with a menacing shadow leaning over Elliott, lying in his bed in a fetus position. Later on, Elliott even crudely admits he was raped by his stepfather during an emotional conversation with his then-girlfriend Joanna Bolme.
After his first try at music with his high school band “Stranger than Fiction,” Elliott decides to leave his Texas family to live with his brainy father in Portland. We then follow adult Elliott through college, while some key moments of his life are illustrated: Elliott’s first encounter with Neil Gust, the two attending an Angela Davis speech, a drunken brawl in a bar, and Elliott meeting Joanna during an interesting depiction of the ‘90s Portland music scene.
In a graphic novel, you must provide dialogues and put words in the characters’ mouths and Antonio fearlessly engages his characters with bold and passionate dialogues while staying true to the scenes he wants to illustrate. He even takes the liberty to stage the last moment of Elliott’s life and his fight with Jennifer Chiba. At this point, the words coming from Chiba and Elliott’s mouths are extremely harsh: “Your songs are long gone and forgotten, you suck big time now,” she says, “all you do is fucking manipulate me,” says Elliott. If we see Elliott holding the knife, the last graphics do not fill all the blanks, and we are still left wondering what exactly happened on this sad day.
Despite being a comic book, Holdenaccio’s work certainly avoids the clichés and dares to go where previous books or movies haven’t. Not only Elliott’s spirit is fully alive throughout these 187 pages, but a real love for the musician transpires in every detail of the drawings. The narrative is honest and powerful, filled with poignant moments while avoiding easy moralism.
I am sure a lot of things have escaped me because Antonio was nice enough to send me an advanced copy in Italian and I cannot wait to read the graphic novel in English. This should happen mid-summer.
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – June 1975 (Volume 7, Number 1)
Smith’s final freelance contribution to Creem.
putting Nigeria on the map
back at # 1 for a third non consecutive week
not a dreamer but a steely eyed businessman and pop musician
Willie Nelson will play at the Palomino fest on Saturday
Creem – America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine, Reviewed Issue By Issue – May 1975 (Volume 6, Number 12
Elton John came across as completely engaging
by episode nine, season four, the bastards finally got me sick of Kate!
some hooky and wildly inspired tune
Harry has the summer of his career!