by Ben Towle
Slave Labor Graphics
BW, 48 pgs , $6.95 US / Higher in Canada
We all know someone who is great at telling tall tales. For me, I had two such folk around my campfire of life. The first was Joe Zack, a kindly man who was old even back in the days when I was young. The other person is my great uncle Leonard, who has many tales to tell about his own life, from rum-running with his brother (my grandfather), helping smuggle Chinese immigrants into Canada, and of a murder to which, to this very day, Leonard claims only he knows the identity of the killer.
Tales such as these often take on a life of their own, growing with each telling, each teller adding his or her own particular brand of spice. In time, these tales make the rounds and become a defining characteristic of a community, a time and place. The best of these become folk tales, specific to certain locations, but also capable of crossing borders because people from all over can identify with their underlying qualities.
Ben Towle, having grown up in the South of the United States, has an interest in folk tales. If you spend any time in an area, you start to hear about the tales that tell the story of the community. Ben researched and presents in this fine collection from Slave Labor Graphics, four folk tales from Georgia.
What connects all of these stories together besides the location is Towle’s outstanding art. Vivid in detail in all the right places, Towle’s illustrations can be witty, dramatic and deeply affecting as required. His well-tuned hand is able to portray time and place as effectively as the well chosen words of the finest storyteller. Without his art, Farewell, Georgia would be just words scattered across an emotionless canvass.
But Towle’s words are not to be overlooked. He has selected four folk tales that tackle various subjects. The first, “The Georgia Peach”, is a story about a retired Ty Cobb who is cajoled by a young upstart to prove himself on the ballfield.
Next up is “Thunderstruck”, the weirdest and most challenging tale in this comic. In reading Towle’s footnotes at the back of this book, I came to understand the premise and some of the events in this chapter, but at the time, I was left scratching my head. It’s a tall tale that smacks of alien abduction but is, in fact, a story fleshed out of an Indian myth.
The third story is “King of the Road”, and this one tale alone is reason enough to pick up Farewell, Georgia. It’s the true story of Charles McCartney, a man who traveled the roads of the South with a pack of goats, preaching the word of God. He was a kind, wandering soul, a man who was a legend even before his time on this Earth was done. His story is oddly inspiring, and yet truly sad at the same time. The final written words “I’m only passing through” clung to my mind for days afterward.
Towle, a fine storyteller indeed, finishes off with a lighthearted tale about a raccoon hunting monkey. The sharp laughs of this story were the perfect antidote for the heavy heart I had after the tale of Charles McCartney. (Chad Boudreau)