Freddie & Me

A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody

This autobiography is about how Mike Dawson loved the music of Freddie Mercury and moved from the United Kingdom to the United States as a child. As such, I expected it to address in some fashion these topics:

  • Why Queen’s music was so appealing to him
  • How the near-death revelation of Mercury’s homosexuality and his having AIDS affected him
  • The culture clash between England and the U.S.
Freddie & Me cover
Freddie & Me
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I think those are basic questions most people would have when told a book was about those subjects. Unfortunately, none of them are addressed in any significant fashion. I wanted to known why Queen mattered so much to Dawson, so much so that he tracks what happens in his life by what he was listening to, but instead of insight, I got anecdotes. Some are funny — Dawson tries to sing Bohemian Rhapsody at a talent contest when he’s 10, only to be ushered off the stage early — but many are overly familiar, especially to anyone who’s read any other comic autobiographies about male geek artists. I feel like one of the people he writes about, who don’t understand his love for the music, because he never explains it to me.

I was left with the questions no autobiographical cartoonist wants to hear: what’s so special about your life? why should I bother reading about it? The most significant section of the book, in my opinion, is a between-chapters reflection on what memory is, what determines how we remember things, and how we change memories into stories. That was new and unusual. The rest, not so much.

The artwork is well-done and easy-to-read, populated with appealing blobby caricatures. The book is a rambling wander, although an impressive achievement at over 300 pages.

A preview chapter and podcast interview was posted at USA Today. This interview at the Comics Reporter reveals more about the author’s goals. Mike Dawson has posted background material at his blog, including deleted pages. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)


6 Responses to “Freddie & Me”

  1. Mike Chary Says:

    After Harvey pekar, an interesting life is no longer a requirement for an autobiographical comic book.

  2. Suzene Says:

    That’s disappointing. I’ll probably give this one a miss, then.

    On the other hand, I did pick up ‘Gimmick’ and ‘Fox Bunny Funny’ due to your recs and I’m enjoying them both tremendously, so thanks for that.

  3. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Jan. 6, 2009: Plenty of seats Says:

    [...] [Review] Freddie & Me Link: Johanna Draper Carlson [...]

  4. Steven Grant Says:

    Harvey’s original material was observational; his subject matter wasn’t so much his own life as where the lives of others intersected with it, and his great skill was in presenting it simply but in an interesting way, and letting us know via his technique why we should think it was interesting. (It also helped that he kept most of his pieces no longer than four pages. That’s not overtaxing the reader’s good will.) His longform pieces focused on his own life have been considerably less interesting.

    I reviewed Freddie & Me a few months ago and had pretty much the same reaction as Joanna. The core idea was pretty much, “LOOK AT ME!” I never got the slightest idea from the book that Freddy Mercury and the music of Queen had any more real effect on Dawson’s life than, say, Elton John’s music had on me, aside from being contemporaneous with his youth and giving his relatively ordinary life a marketing hook.

    And it was something of a relief to see Johanna asking those same questions.

    – Grant

  5. Johanna Says:

    Suzene, I’m glad you liked them!

    Grant, I’m glad I’m not the only one. Skimming net reviews suggested other people were much more interested than I was — or less willing to be negative.

  6. Steven Grant Says:

    Yeah, I find the general critical reaction to the book to be odd. (Of course, I felt the same way about Blankets.) I don’t doubt Dawson’s talent, but my first question on reading something is do I feel like I read something, and the answer with Freddie was no. It felt empty, a series of more or less random (albeit usually well presented) incidents that pretty much added up to nothing. I took a lot of crap for writing a few weeks ago that I didn’t think 2008 was a very good year for comics and graphic novels, and while I was probably a little too hard on the business, that Freddie & Me has ended up on so many ten best lists sort of underscores my point.

    – Grant




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