Kafka - By Crumb and Mairowitz

Having been a Kafka fan since I was merely a brilliant teenager, and a little bit of a Crumb fan as well, I was excited to see this cool title at the comic shop. From a quick glance through the pages, I could see instantly that the art was great, but close inspection revealed that, in some ways, this book diverged from the markedly exaggerated style that Crumb fans might expect. Just as importantly, Mairowitz's contribution to Kafka Studies is both entertaining and important.

Readers may be surprised at just how deep the analysis of Kafka and his work goes in this fairly slim volume. More than just another biased academic work bent on shoehorning Prague's finest into some category or genre, this Kafka simply tries to show him as the man he was.

From close readings of his work, interviews with people who knew him, and evaluation of his letters to friends and family, Mairowitz paints a full picture of a man, warts and all. In all of its humor, sadness, intrigue, and general bizarreness, this well-written book tries to take us into the mind of Franz Kafka, a man who was many different things to many people, and frequently nothing to himself. Rather than make a hypothesis which they then try to prove through art and prose, the two creators of this must-read graphic literary biography simply present the important facts surrounding the life of a man who defied understanding, and ask us to make our own decisions about what his works really mean.

The stark world of early 1900s Prague, a place just as inhospitable to Czechs as it was to Jews, is revealed in careful detail by Crumb at his moodiest, who thoroughly engrosses us in the life of Austria-Hungary's most influential Jewish Czech. In his sometimes-funny, sometimes-agonizing depictions of Kafka's life and work, with wild detours into period art styles and frequent forays into realistic art, we perhaps see the hand of a kindred spirit.

(Note: The version pictured uses an exceptional binding method -- signature sewing through the saddle, then perfect-bound. A very tough binding that will easily withstand perhaps hundreds of readings. Normally, when you get such a thick perfect-bound graphic novel, particularly one that uses a thick paper, it's just a matter of time before the pages start to fall out. This version is basically immune to this problem.)