Monday, 13 July 2020

Django: Hand on Fire by Salva Rubio / Art by Ricard Efa

Django: Hand on Fire by Salva Rubio / Art by Ricard Efa
First published in French as Django: Main de feu by Dupuis in France in 2020. English language translation by Matt Madden published by Europe Comics in May 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Django: Hand on Fire” tells the story of the youth of Django Reinhardt, a Roma raised outside Paris who would go on to be one of the most influential guitarists of all time. We follow his early years as an aimless and rebellious kid who is heading for a life of trouble until his devoted younger brother Nin-Nin convinces their mother NĂ©gros to buy him a banjo.

Captivated by its possibilities and spurred by his natural talent, Django becomes obsessed with the instrument and quickly surpasses his older peers, mastering the popular bal-musette and intrigued by the new jazz coming over from the States. Soon he is playing in clubs and winning awards. He is on the verge of international success at the age of 18 when a tragedy strikes that will mark the rest of his life and career: he is badly burned in a caravan fire and spends the next years relearning how to play the guitar with only two fully-functioning fingers. This is an amazing story of perseverance and of fierce family love that is little known even to many jazz aficionados.

I really loved reading this graphic novel! It tells Django Reinhardt's life story from his birth, through his childhood and initial attempts to break into the vibrant Paris music scene, and then his long fight to regain the use of his leg and hand after being badly burned in a fire. That he returned to music is incredible, but Django then went on to become one of the most proficient guitarists in the world. His is certainly a cautionary tale against underestimating anyone purely because of a physical disability!

Throughout Django: Hand on Fire, Efa's gorgeously atmospheric artwork fits perfectly to Rubio's well-researched text. There's an interesting essay at the end which discusses the difficulties faced in digging up truth from legend in Django's story and this book felt authentic and honest to me. The characters are beautifully portrayed with even people who only appear in a couple of frames having distinct personalities and expressions. Django himself doesn't come across as a particularly nice man, but there is no doubting his emotional strength and perseverance. I loved his mother's character too. A truly formidable woman!

I've enjoyed listening to jazz musicians playing Django-inspired Manouche music on several occasions over the years, but had never taken the time to find out about the man himself. I now have a new appreciation of everything he needed to overcome - poverty and social exclusion as well as disability - in order to become such a star.

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Books by Salva Rubio and Ricard Efa / Graphic novels / Books from Spain

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