Capote in Kansas: A Drawn Novel, written by Ande Parks and illustrated by Chris Samnee

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Saturday, Jun 19, 2010

As author Ande Parks points out in his afterword, Capote in Kansas is not entirely factual. This graphic novel does deal with the research Truman Capote did in composing In Cold Blood, but Parks has mixed in fictional elements as well.

In November 1959, Perry Smith and Dick Hickok murdered four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Capote's book, published a few years later as a "nonfiction novel," became one of the best-selling books of the 1960s and a "true-crime" classic.

In Capote in Kansas, Parks and illustrator Chris Samnee give an accounting of Capote's time in western Kansas. At first resented and distrusted by the townspeople, he gains their confidence with the help of his friend Harper Lee -- who would become famous in her own right as the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Among Parks' liberties with the facts: He has Lee leaving Kansas well before she did in real life. And he represents Nancy, the Clutters' youngest daughter, as a ghost who befriends Capote and helps him understand western Kansas. It sounds silly when describing it as a plot device, but it works well on these pages.

Graphic novel it may be, but this should not be mistaken for a children's book. There's no shortage of sexuality or mayhem here, nor should Parks and Samnee be condemned for that -- there's really no way to tell this story and do it any justice without those elements.

Samnee's black-and-white artwork is exceptional -- stark enough to be striking but detailed enough to get the job done. Parks' text and dialogue are top-notch with one exception: The killers themselves seem one-dimensional. Given Capote's original depiction of them, perhaps that's inevitable.

Readers of this graphic novel may be reminded of "Capote," the film that earned Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar for his portrayal of the author. Oddly, this book came out in 2005, the same year the film was released, but the movie was based on the biography Capote by Gerald Clarke. A further coincidence: Capote in Kansas also is the title of a 2007 print novel by Kim Powers -- and that book, too, deals with a supernatural element!

Written by John Mark E.