It’s hard to imagine a pop culture icon with more enduring influence and fan power than Elvis Presley, the King, who still sells around one million records a year. That number is likely to surge in 2017 with the re-release of his 50 Greatest Hits to mark the 40th anniversary of his death. The volumes of biographies, analyses, and commentaries on the King fill libraries, and it might seem unlikely that yet another is necessary or has anything new to add to the Elvis oeuvre.

This new graphic biography by Philippe Chanoinat with illustrations by Fabrice Le Henanff deserves not only a second look, but a spot on the shelves of Elvis enthusiasts and graphic novel aficionados alike.

It’s true that there is no new information about the King’s life or death here; the facts are basic and generally well known. The work provides a solid, if a bit sanitized, overview of Elvis’s life, with a focus on his music and film productions. Every record, every television appearance, and every film seems to have its own mention in the script, often with an overuse of adjective descriptors. The dark elements of the Elvis story, such as the manipulations of Tom Parker, his determined wooing of the fourteen year old Priscilla, and Elvis’s struggles with addictions, are mentioned but quickly hurried in order to focus instead on his professional output. Chanoinat does provide a brief but informative historical overview of the musical scene of the Elvis era, including noting other Sun recording artists such as Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as standout African-American artists like Big Boy Crudup, B. B. King, and Fats Domino; whose works helped birth the fledgling rock and roll movement.

But the greatness of this volume isn’t the story, it’s the art. Fabrice Le Hénanff’s paintings elevate this work from mediocre to remarkable. His lush photo-realistic style captures the man and the myth from his early years at Sun to his final concerts, brilliantly showcasing his most memorable moments and career highlights. The color palette is subdued to better focus attention on the details and uniqueness of each image. Each brushstroke adds a touch that captures a wry grin, a bead of sweat, or a soulful glance. Every character stands out, his or individuality perfectly captured, each moment in time preserved for the reader’s appreciation. Indeed, one could remove the text completely, and this painted story would still capture Elvis’s appeal, charisma, and the evolution of his career. The most successful pages in Elvis do just that, minimize the presence of text to focus the page on the art.

NBM doesn’t rate Elvis, but its most likely audience is existing Elvis fans, whatever their age. The story has no obviously objectionable elements, and the reading level could work for either teen or adult collections. But, this is a volume that is most appropriate for the dedicated Elvis fan or for collectors of graphic art, those who can see beyond the story’s blandness to embrace the visual excellence. For these collectors, this beautiful volume would be a superb addition to the shelf or even the coffee table.

Elvis: A Biography in Comics
by Phillipe Chanoinat
Art by Fabrice Le Hénanff
ISBN: 9781681120768
NBM, 2016

  • Beth Rogers

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Beth Rogers is Coordinator of Reference, Instruction, and Outreach at the Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where she has worked to introduce and develop the library’s graphic novel collection. Also a part-time lecturer in English, Beth has taught courses on graphic novels for college students, lead book discussions on graphic novels including Watchmen and American-Born Chinese, and guest lectured on superheroes in American culture. She also maintains a book review blog, Do I Wanna Read THAT?!?!? When she’s not working, Beth enjoys action movies, knitting wee Avengers, and spoiling her dog.

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