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Smuttynose Graphic Novel Part 3


Illustrator Bob Oxman continues his quest to turn the historic Smuttynose Island homicides into a graphic novel. We just received part three in the indepently published series and, as Rod Serling said, it is submitted for your approval on the following page. (Contined below)


This third installment of the SMUTTYNOSE graphic novel finally gets down to the graphic details of the 1873 ax murders on Smuttynose Island. If nothing else, illustrator Bob Oxman is persistent, if not obsessed about telling the story in full. He is far from the first, present company included, who have gone slightly off the rails with the telling of this story. Oxman is, as far as we know, the first to take it into comic book form. Others have used ballet, the ballad, novels, photography, film and nonfiction.

OXMAN0001The style and narrative are consistent with the firs two indepently produced editions. The imagery is as primitive as the murders themselves. They have a haunting sketchy quality that is in itself disturbing as if the pictures are being scratched on the walls of a jail cell by the murderer himself.

The format is also consistent -- folded 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper stapled in the center. This is, curiously, the same format (although on slightly larger paper) that Lyman Ruttledge used for his classic 1950s study of the Smuttynose Murders. And it is the format Laurey Buseey used to create the Smuttynose Island walking tour that we stewards offer to visitors of the island each summer.

This writer is far too close to the material to criticize. Oxman generally gets the story right and his sense of drama and pacing work like movie storyboards. Unfortinately the film has already been made, or at least a version of it, based on Anita Shreve’s novel Weight of Water. Oxman appears to quote the novel in spots, especially when he depicts victims Maren and Anethe in bed as semi-naked lovers in seductive Victoria’s Secret nightgowns – not the fashion popular among immigrants on a freezing winter night at the Isles of Shoals.

Oxman does tell the real story, not the fictional Maren-did-it version so popular with people who don’t know anything about history. His Louis Wagner, oddly, is not the scraggly fisherman as seen in the Kathryn Bigelow film, but the clean cut figure shown in souvenir photographs taken after his arrest. In this case, the film is closer to fact.

It is fascinating to watch the way the artist pieces together the scenery from online photographs, drawings and descriptions. He gets the phase of the moon right. The exterior and layout of the Hontvet "murder house" on Smuttynose is also pretty good as are the sequence of events. In one scene Wagner walks through a pre-1830 version of downtown Portsmouth in 1873. But this isn’t intended as a documentary. It is an artistic interpretation and sticking to historical detail is moot.

It is discomforting to see the murders in cartoon form. The Batman-style use of words as the ax cuts into human flesh and bone – THOK! THWACK! – is especially harsh because these are real women who were killed, not cartoon figures. I’m sure someone somewhere has done the same treatment with the Kennedy assassination, but it’s not my cup of tea. And yet it is, oddly, a cup of tea and a teapot that appear on the cover of this edition, symbols of peacefulness and calm. -- JDR

COPIES AVAILABLE BY CONTACTING THE AUTHOR AT This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The book is also available in the Portsmouth Library; Left Bank Books, Hanover; Fashion Boutique, Hanover; and Revolution, White River Junction, Vermont.

SEE PART ONE click here


(c) Bob Oxman 2010, All rights reserved



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