Superzelda: The Graphic Life of Zelda Fitzgerald

Was Zelda Fitzgerald an accomplished flirt who couldn’t cope with growing older? A tragic schizophrenic? A talented artist whose attempts weren’t supported and whose writing was stolen by her better-known husband? I don’t know, because this graphic biography (translated from the Italian) doesn’t ever get inside her head or provide any stab at showing her motivations, although they mention all of the above conditions at various times.

Instead, there’s an awful lot of “then they went to…” New York, Paris, Alabama, Italy, Hollywood, as though a listing of events really tells us something about the person who lived through them. It doesn’t. Perhaps speculating on Zelda’s true feelings and motivations would have made it harder to seduce the reader into the jazz-age escapism of her scandalous early days.

The material is interesting to read, just because Zelda’s life was interesting, but it’s flawed in serious ways. Visually, I believe a biography should be be done by someone who’s capable of handling likenesses, or at least keeping their main character recognizable from chapter to chapter. However, in this book, there were panels where I didn’t know which person was intended to be Zelda, because the faces varied so much.

It’s particularly disturbing, since Zelda was a famous beauty in her youth, and that aspect of her character doesn’t carry through at all. If we weren’t told so frequently how pretty or striking she was, I wouldn’t have known that this character, as drawn, was supposed to be attractive. You’d expect a visual medium to be much better at portraying that piece of her life. What is conveyed well in the images is the time period, with the locations and clothing captured elegantly in a two-tone, black and blue-grey, fashion.

Much of the dialogue and captions are taken from the characters’ actual words, I think, but there are no specific sources listed, just a note about “all of the novels, stories, and letters of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the biographies of both of them”. Anyone seriously interested in this subject will want to read further, since this superficial overview is ultimately unsatisfying, leaving one wanting more, but they’ll have to find the books themselves.

There’s also a lot of name-dropping of figures of the 1920s and 30s, many of whom won’t be recognized by contemporary readers. Notes would have been helpful, or less reliance on such inserts. I did enjoy reading about Zelda’s life in illustrated form, although I was left frustrated. Perhaps that’s a reflection of how much we still don’t know about her, not just this presentation.

The publisher provided a review copy and has posted a preview.

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