A graphic biography of the infamous early 20th century Journalist William Buehler Seabrook, who participated in voodoo ceremonies, rode camels cross the Sahara desert, communed with cannibals and most notably, popularized the term 'zombie' in the West.
Ollmann spent 10 years researching Seabrook’s strange, ramshackle life, and it shows: his book is wonderfully rich and detailed. Nothing seems to escape his attention or his compassion, whether we’re talking about Seabrook’s interest in S&M or about the long-suffering women in his life. His drawings of Seabrook, blunt-lined and scratchy, are a perfect match for his personality, which is at once charming and repulsive, fascinating and frustrating, while his depictions of such things as camel raids and tribal dances have a romantic, overblown quality, almost as if they are only figments of Seabrook’s imagination. In a way, of course, they are. In the end, this is not so much a simple biography, as a book about writing, and just how painful it can be when the words on the page don’t adequately match the pictures in a man’s head.
Ollmann has an appetite for characters who make their own hells, and in Seabrook's life he's found a banquet. At the center is Seabrook himself, drinking his way through three marriages to seemingly interchangeable women, a rocky career, and the occasional cannibalism scandal ... Seabrook himself is this book's biggest hurdle. Ollmann's argument, laid out in his introduction, is that Seabrook is interesting enough to be worth knowing more about. Seabrook's actual life seems determined to refute it. At times the book seems an empathy exercise accompanied by an unspoken 'How about now?' asking us how far we're willing to extend our sympathies ... The deftness of Ollmann's short work is dampened by the demands of biography and his subject. There are glimpses of visual humor but the more self-conscious flourishes grate ... clearly a passion project for Ollmann; the depth of research is impressive, and there are evocative beats of loneliness or connection that remind us why the graphic novel can be such a powerful medium for conveying such small, human moments. The question is how much Seabrook you think you can stand.
Ollmann’s artwork is stylized, and, taken over the course of the book, demonstrates the ravages of time and heavy alcohol consumption on its subject ...Ollmann also makes fine use of nine-panel grids, sometimes zeroing in on the minute body language and interactions of Seabrook in a domestic context, and juxtaposes moments from his life through similarly constructed panels at a temporal distance from one another ... The graphic biography goes beyond a straightforward narrative, investigating the larger artistic and social context in which he wrote and lived, and gives a fuller sense of the literary and artistic scene in and out of which Seabrook drifted ... Before reading Ollmann’s clear-headed and empathic account, the name William Seabrook may have been foreign; by the end of it, readers will likely want to order one of his books—the mark of a comprehensive and compelling literary biography.