There are those days in a life that get seared into your memory. June 4, 1997 was one of those days for me. That was when I found out that a talented young singer/guitarist, Jeff Buckley had drowned in a Memphis river before recording his second album. I had discovered his first album a few years earlier while working at a book/music store. Grace was the most impressive debut album I had ever heard. It was clear from this album that Buckley was a force of nature and a true original. When I found out there was going to be a comic made about his life, I was excited to read it.
Tiffanie DeBartolo distills Buckley’s life and talent into the First Second comic, Grace. She uses a curious framing device to open the book. We aren’t introduced to Buckley right away, but to Henry, an aspiring musician who discovers Buckley’s music in 1994 and is inspired to pursue his own music after listening. We revisit Henry throughout the book to see his pursuit of his dreams. It’s an odd choice that doesn’t really add much to Buckley’s story. Once we finally meet Buckley in 1991, he is struggling to break into the music industry while trying to separate himself from his famous father; Tim Buckley, who he barely knew. Soon he meets Rebecca Moore and falls in love. She encourages him to find a venue to play his songs and he eventually lands a Monday night gig at the Siné. It’s not long before he’s fielding offers and eventually signs with Columbia Records. He records an album, tours with a band and more. The strain of traveling eventually ends his relationship with Moore and gives him ample song material. Touring continues and eventually exhausts Buckley. He begins to recharge himself in Memphis as he starts work on his second album in 1994 before his fateful swim.
The artwork by Pascal Dizin and Lisa Reist suits the story well. There are clean lines and the characters look fairly consistent, so it’s easy to tell them apart. The blue color palette sets the appropriate tone for the story, always a little subdued and reserved. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of water symbolism. The art was drawn digitally with a Wacom tablet and an iPad Pro, yet it looks like it could be hand drawn at times. The artists throw in references to many other famous cartoonists like R. Crumb, Charles Schultz and more. While amusing, these tend to distract from the overall tale of Buckley’s life.
By the end, I felt like I knew a little more about Jeff Buckley, but I also felt like there was a deeper story to be told. This book could go into many YA or Adult graphic novel collections, though many teens may not know who Buckley is. It’s probably not a necessity, but any music lover will like to learn more about this artist.
Grace: Based on the Jeff Buckley Story
By Tiffanie DeBartolo
Art by Pascal Dizin, Lisa Reist
First Second, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: adult