Thursday, September 15, 2011

Getting Serious About That Roberto Clemente Graphic Bio

For whatever reason, the choice between comic books and baseball cards was indeed and very much a choice in my hometown. There were, presumably, kids who were as obsessive about hoarding and shoplifting and maintaining their comic book collections as I was about my stacks of Phil Plantier rookie cards -- "Call that the college fund/HA HA" -- Young Jeezy on my mindset at that moment. I didn't know them, and I am actually also not sure they really were there in my hometown. And so it never remotely happened for me with comics.

I tried to read "Watchmen" after college, because everyone said I should, but it didn't take -- I thought it was creepy and overdetermined and half-fascist and not that good, but mostly that means that it was not for me. So it was that Wilfred Santiago's "21", which I got sent (twice, as it turns out) to review for the Los Angeles Review of Books, became the only comic in my house, and remains the only one that I've finished, ever, in my life. But while I probably wasn't the obvious choice to review the book, given my nonexistent comics background, my love for writing longish things and books and baseball and my admiration for the new and very cool LARB -- and, more to the point, the help of my Can't Stop the Bleeding associate Ben Schwartz -- helped make it happen anyway. I'm happy with the way the review turned out, and proud to be LARB'ed. You should read it, if you want to read it. And now here is a bit of it that will either make you want to read it or not:

Two generations after his last game as a baseball player and his disappearance into the Caribbean, Clemente endures in the alternately flattering and flattening forbidden zone of baseball mythos: as a name on Major League Baseball’s annual citizenship award, as the subject of a statue outside Pittsburgh’s PNC Bank Park, as a Spanish-speaking stand-in for Jackie Robinson, baseball’s first truly great Latin American star, and finally as something of a cipher. The only player for whom the Baseball Hall of Fame waived its traditional five-year waiting period — Clemente was voted into the Hall in a landslide in 1973, mere months after his death — the Pirates’ star found himself entombed in baseball’s pantheon when he still had plenty of life due to him. He has been locked in there ever since, his goodnesses and greatnesses sanitized and held in air-conditioned suspension in Cooperstown.

And so Clemente still exists: his name is on the 304-acre sports campus he built near his hometown of Carolina, in Puerto Rico, and his name is on the pedestrian bridge that fans cross to reach PNC Bank Park on game-days. But, more broadly, the sentimental way in which he has been remembered has made him, if not forgettable, certainly a bit less human: one of the game’s household saints.

Only you know if that worked or not. But if it did, you should click here.

1 comment:

  1. I really really liked yr piece. If you ever want to give comics another shot, I suggest the first two Image collections of Howard Chaykin's _American Flagg_. Absolutely terrific. And maybe Moore's _V for Vendetta_.

    Though I share all of your concerns with _Watchmen_, and, having read a shit-ton of Moore over the years, am frustrated that he can basically only make books about other books.