21: The Story of Roberto Clemente, a Pocket Review

Last night, Eric and I went down to the Georgetown section of Seattle, where, nestled between tendrils of the Union Pacific and BNSF Railway, some warehouses surrounded by barbed wire, and a few coffee shops, Fantagraphics Books runs a richly stocked half and half store full of graphic novels and records. On tap for the evening was a conversation between Wilfred Santiago, author of the recently published graphic novel 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente, and baseball writer and Baseball Nation editor Rob Neyer.

The graphic novel is a beautifully wrought Clemente collage, following the hitter from the impactful events of childhood through his career as a Pirate and up to his untimely death. While there were several poignant dramatic through lines, the book’s strength lies in its brilliant visuals, which far outweigh its strictly biographical content. In addition to his many other notable qualities, like his humanitarianism and his greatness as a player, Clemente was a beautiful man, with a striking physicality. Drawing on this aesthetic truth, Santiago stuns and heightens it, with an imaginative and dramatic illustrative style, with its palette of Pirates yellow, and orange and black. The oral tradition of myth-making is put into visual form here.

Neyer interviewed Santiago about Clemente and about the book, covering topics like Clemente’s spiritual bent, his legacy as a humanitarian, and the creative challenges of translating baseball into the graphic novel form. Afterwards, Santiago signed copies of the book, and Neyer was nice enough to hang around and chat with a couple of lowly, esoteric baseball bloggers.

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