Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Review of Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm from 30.2

Percy Carey and Ronald Wimberly. Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm. New York, New York: Vertigo, 2008. $19.99 hardcover (ISBN 978-1401210472), 128 pages.

Reviewed by Marcus Wicker

In the graphic novel Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm, underground rap artist Percy Carey recreates the gripping story of his life. Carey’s “blow by blow” storytelling joined with Ronald Wimberly’s artwork results in a high speed joy ride, even if the joy is not always obvious. This joint-production is filled to the brim with urban superheroes, struggle, pain, and triumph over deadly circumstances.

The book opens with a bit of dark humor as young Percy, a reoccurring extra on Sesame Street, informs his childhood buddies that Big Bird and Oscar are actually adult actors dressed in costumes, yelling, “It’s all bullshit. Big Bird’s just some man in there, an’ I saw him, an’ he wears pants that look like Big Bird’s legs, an’ Oscar ain’t real, an’ Snufulupagus, he ain’t real neither.” From the very first scenes, Carey establishes himself as a conflicted character: an individual who treats his friends like family, but refuses to sugarcoat his feelings towards even the most trivial subject matter. As the story progresses, this sense of conflict evolves into hyphenation in high school, where Carey finds himself terrorizing the underbelly of New York and reading books like To Kill a Mocking Bird for a little pleasure on the side.

The characterization of Percy as a conflicted person often yields serendipitous encounters. For instance, both his moral backbone and grandiose ego trigger a house party altercation where the young man takes on a pack of thugs to defend the women attendees’ collective honor. The hellish beating Percy endures motivates him to lay low and focus on his aspirations to be an emcee. This turning point spawns likeminded friendships and razor-sharp rap rhymes: “Yo, my rhymes filled with protein / addicting like ice cream or morphine or caffeine / but choke you like chlorine.”

Throughout the book, M.F. Grimm (A.KA. Percy Carey, the narrator) strings together unlikely comparisons, like the ones above, in cadences reminiscent of his 2006 triple disc release, American Hunger. His multisyllabic word play requires jumbo-sized speech bubbles so that, spatially, Grimm’s rhymes are often at the forefront of each panel. Wimberly’s life-like graphic treatment of studio recording sessions, packed concerts, and emcee battles add layers to Carey’s narration. The effect is a world where lyricism and life-experience work in concert with one anothera combination which illuminates the reality of Carey’s mind-boggling story.

Percy’s lyrical prowess then takes him on a journey to the West Coast to work with companies like Geffen and Epic records as a ghostwriter. It is in Los Angeles that the reader realizes Grimm was an unseen presence behind the music of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and M.F. Doom, producing/co-producing beats and writing lyrics. It is also in LA that the reader recognizes Percy’s Oscar Wilde-esque syndrome: he can resist everything but temptation (temptation, in Percy’s case, being shoot outs, drug deals, and general violence). This affection for hip hop and street life ultimately leads Grimm back to a growing fan-base in New York to sign a record deal, but this never happens due to a shooting that leaves him paralyzed from the waist down. Carey’s book slightly falters here, as the author begins to tell more than show. Whereas the first half of the book is drenched in non-stop action, the second half is invested in Grimm’s change of lifestyle. Although his voice maintains a gutter register, this sluggish recollection of events renders Carey’s bullet point style of narration slightly monotonous. The graphic format of this book seeks to redeem this oversight though.

Gritty shading, dark shadows, and exaggerated facial expressions consume the quickly portrayed but dramatic “back alley” moments of this book in a way that speaks volumes when Carey does not. Ronald Wimberly’s panels are as compelling as the work of a world class jazz drummer: they remain ever present without overpowering but create distinctive, enriching layers when necessary.

At its best, Sentences is a story of hope, a story of promise. Carey’s compelling tale chronicles the emcee’s pinnacles and plateaus without falling victim to the stereotypical tropes that plague mainstream hip hop, that is, rented rides, video vixens, and pricey jewelry. His precious jewel is a unique brand of diction—a sort of asphalt talk that feels as swaggering and street as the world he inhabits, embodies, and critiques.

1 comment:

E-mecca said...

Its gripping graphic comic good to see him at complex magazine he has a blog