Joe Ollmann’s The Abominable Mr. Seabrook is a riveting read. An incredibly compelling portrait of a man whose life is the very definition of “larger than life” turned into an engaging page turner under the expert hand of Joe Ollmann. I found it was difficult to put this book down once I started reading it. The topic of the book certainly helps, William Seabrook was a journalist and writer in the early 20th century. He is famous for a handful of bestsellers, including a book about his travels and experience living in Saudi Arabia and later, a book exploring the tradition of voodoo in Haiti. He popularized the word Zombie into the English language, a word most readers of this site are familiar with. We follow the life of Seabrook from his strange childhood, through his failed marriage, world travel and ultimately, his fall into alcoholism and final days.
All the years of meticulous research Ollmann did on his topic coalesced perfectly on the page. A wonderful achievement given that Ollmann spent ten years researching for this graphic novel. He documented and condensed his experience in a short series of comics for the Paris Review, which you can read for free here. The result is fantastic, the reader seamlessly moves through the life of William Seabrook and Ollmann introduces all the necessary information to understand this journalist. There’s just the right amount of anecdotes, facts, conversation and introspection to make this a breezy and satisfying read. A perfect balance of all the elements at play in this graphic novel.
Visually, I’m torn about this graphic novel. Even as I’m typing this, I’m unsure why. I think it is perhaps not as innovative as I had hoped given the subject matter. William Seabrook led such a colourful life, should a book about him not be as wild as he was? It seemed the book’s visual tone is darker than it should be. But on the other hand, distilling the complicated and somewhat tragic life of Seabrook requires a certain amount of text (to give proper context) and visual restraint to do this story justice. I think Ollmann managed to strike a good balance here. It never becomes too over-the-top or drab. It moves along quickly, which also helps to not bog you down in a location for too long. There’s enough variety to keep you interested through the whole experience. It’s not a visually stunning book, but it’s a solidly crafted one. Ollmann uses his art to reinforce the story whenever he can which . It’s shades of blue bring a “down-to earth” tone to the story that grounds it in reality.
In the end though, any concerns I might have about the art is eclipsed by the overall quality of the graphic novel. The Abominable Mr. Seabrook is a perfect book club book, a compelling graphic novel and a stunning culmination of many years of work from Joe Ollmann.
Abominable Mr. Seabrook
Drawn & Quarterly
$22.95 US / $26.95 CAD
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.