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Graphic Novel Review: Booth by C.C. Colbert & Tanitoc

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Historian Catherine Clinton (here writing under the nom de plume C.C. Colbert) has already published nearly two-dozen books on history. Departing from the dry world of academic writing, Colbert, inspired by her sons' passion for graphic novels (or "long-form narrative comics," as she aptly describes them), presents her fictionalized account of the events in John Wilkes Booth's professional, political and private life that led up to, and immediately followed, his assassination of the then-US president, Abraham Lincoln.

That it is well-known that Booth, a famous actor, shot Lincoln at Ford's Theater, Washington, in 1865 is beyond question, but what is perhaps less well-known is the particular set of circumstances, motivations and personal qualities of the assassin that led him to commit such an open and public act of political murder. Colbert, aided by the estimable talents of French bande dessinée illustrator, Tanitoc, seeks to shed light on the shadowy corners of the life of one of America's most infamous figures, illuminating it against the backdrop of the wider political context that inspired the shooting.

The book begins by introducing us to Booth and his family, including his brother, another famous actor with whom Booth has a fraught relationship. They fall out at a family gathering, and Booth leaves on mysterious business, though it has been made clear already that he is a supporter of the Confederacy. While Booth gets drawn deeper into the world of political subterfuge, he also enjoys a burgeoning romance with Lucy Hale, the daughter of a pro-Union senator. Their romance is threatened by the attentions of another suitor, none other than Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the president.

Meantime, Edwin Booth, John's more famous and respected brother quits the stage following a personal tragedy, allowing John's star to rise in the theater world and making him an even more attractive proposition to his fellow-conspirators. With the tide of the civil war turning against the Confederacy and his relationship with Lucy Hale buckling under the combined pressures of jealousy, circumstance and ideological conflict, Booth, in the thrall of his increasingly desperate associates, is propelled towards the deed that made his name one of the most infamous in the turbulent history of the world's most powerful nation.

Booth is an attractive and easy-to-read volume, beautifully illustrated in keenly observed yet uncluttered style that at times recalls the work of Scotland's Eddie Campbell (interestingly, Tanitoc now lives in Scotland). The simple and elegant coloring benefits from being reproduced by First Second Books on high-spec, glossy paper, lending depth and the feeling of real quality, making this an accessible and illuminating text that will appeal to historian and layman, young and old alike.

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