When I think of the graphic novel form I don’t think about baseball. It just doesn’t lend itself to the fast paced, action packed style. I think about Frank Miller’s Sin City or even 300 which is based on a graphic novel series. I recently read the new graphic novel 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente by Wilfred Santiago and it changed my perception completely.
The book covers the story of Clemente’s journey from growing up poor in Puerto Rico to becoming the most dominant baseball player of the 1960’s. The style blends a gritty, raw feel with heartfelt emotions. The mood is set beautifully by using the stark mustard gold and black colors of the Pirates uniforms as the standard color palette throughout the book. The energy and enthusiasm with which Clemente played the game is felt on these pages.
He was considered controversial during his playing days, often criticized by the media but he carried a tremendous weight as the first Latino superstar in American sports. He was a humanitarian as well, dying on a plane flight bringing aid to Nicaraguan earthquake survivors in 1972. If you’re a fan of baseball and especially of Clemente you’ll appreciate this book. It captures the spirit of the man.