CHASIN' THE BIRD

Writer/Illustrator/Letterer: Dave Chisholm

Colorist: Peter Markowski

Publisher: Z2 Comics

Chasin' the Bird, Cover, Chisholm/Markowski, Z2 Comics

WHAT IS IT?

A musical biography of the mysterious jazz titan Charlie 'Bird' Parker Jr.


Chasin' the Bird is what would result if Rocketman followed the hippest, most troubled cat of bebop instead of Elton John.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

(Minor Spoilers)

Charlie Parker Jr. and Dizzy Gillespie are on their way to a residency in California in 1945 or '46, when they stop and play a surprise gig in Chicago. Gillespie and Bird (Charlie Parker Jr.'s endearing nickname) spread the good word of bebop to the locals lucky enough to witness them. However, this causes the pair to miss their connecting train, delaying them for several days. On the journey, the reader is given a glimpse into Bird's monster - a crippling combination of mental health problems and lifelong addiction to heroin.


Gillespie and Bird play their residency, and are set to return to New York. Well, Gillespie is. Bird sold his return ticket to buy heroin, and decides to stay in California. What follows is a truly uncertain period in the jazz titan's life. Chasin' the Bird pieces together snippets of interviews, hearsay, and what few accounts there are of this time and weave a story worthy of Bird. It is a remarkably well-researched and sensitively-spun tale of a troubled yet truly singular figure in music.

WHAT WORKS?

  • Chisholm and Markowski have managed to bring Bird and those around him to vivid life. The pair have carefully chosen moments and viewpoints to both demystify and enhance the legend of Charles Parker Jr., and it is a riveting read.

  • Bird is not presented as a caricature - he was both a master of music and a flawed human being with a heroin addiction. Chasin' the Bird shows a version of Bird that attempts to reconcile all of the sides of a complex human being and does an admirable job of it.

  • Each chapter of Chasin' the Bird is told from the perspective of a different person in Bird's life, and they all provide insight into Bird from a different angle. From Bird's long-time friend and collaborator Dizzy Gillespie for the opening chapter to new friends, a lover, a photographer, and more, the varying narrators show Bird in multiple lights, all of which are interesting and illuminating.

  • The art styles present in Chasin' the Bird are unique and distinctive. With each different chapter, Chisholm and Markowski alter almost everything about the art - from the rendering style to coloring to lettering - to reflect the new viewpoint. The changes are surprising without being jarring, and Chisholm's ability to produce such a variation in art in one book is truly admirable.

  • Chisholm's lettering is of particular note - it is a feat to letter in one font and have it fit with the rest of the art, let alone multiple drastically different fonts that have to match with particular art styles.

  • Chisholm's rendering of Bird's music is truly mesmerizing. Whether it's more traditional notes on staves flowing through panels or using pink squares to represent Bird's unique and futuristic sound, music is the blood flowing through Bird's veins and Chisholm makes sure to show this impeccably.

  • Beyond the rendering of music itself, the moments in Chasin' the Bird where music is played are always enrapturing. From a manic concert on an artist's desert ranch to countless pieces in jazz clubs, each one made me want to find a recording of Bird and immerse myself in the scene even more. For people who love music, particularly jazz of any kind, this book will likely reinvigorate any flagging in passion for the medium.

  • Chasin' the Bird does not shy away from racial tensions of the time. The comic brings the romance of being a jazz musician into the harsh reality of oppression and subjugation regularly.

  • Chasin' the Bird feels like it would be out of place as anything but a comic. Between the changes in art styles, some truly reality-warping panels, and the collaboration between the creative team and the reader to bring the world of Bird to life, Chasin' the Bird could only be a comic, and it embraces that fact.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK?

  • Content warning: Chasin' the Bird contains depictions of smoking, alcohol consumption, and implied nudity. It also contains references to drug use, mental illness, and racism. There is also infrequent swearing throughout the book.

  • While Chasin' the Bird is sensitive to issues of racism, the creative team behind the comic are both white. While they do an admirable job of telling the story of Charlie Parker Jr., it is not a story told by members of the community that it is depicting.

  • Some character renderings, particularly full-body shots, can feel like they are clay figures molded into a pose as opposed to living, breathing people in motion, particularly in panels that aren't involved in major story beats. This doesn't happen often and isn't overly distracting, but is evident upon repeated reads.


Chasin' the Bird, page 15, Z2, Chisholm/Markowski

WHY SHOULD I READ IT?

Chasin' the Bird is a refreshing, vibrant glimpse into a moment in the life of a pioneering figure of Western music that uses the medium of comics to its fullest. It is a story that brings Charlie Parker Jr. to life in a truly singular manner. The constantly-shifting narrative carves a detailed picture of a man capable of great beauty and equally great destruction.


Chisholm's art is stellar throughout the book, regardless of which art style he is using on a particular page. Markowski's coloring is perfectly suited to whatever Chisholm puts on the page, from vibrant realism to paying homage to classic comic styles of old.


While there are truly dark moments within, the reader cannot help but leave Chasin' the Bird feeling inspired, humming one of Parker Jr.'s classic tunes.

WHAT DO I READ NEXT?

If you like the writing:


If you like the art:


ABOUT THE CREATORS


Dave Chisholm - Creator (@chisholmdave)

  • Multitalented: Chisholm is often the sole creator of comics that he works on, filling the role of writer, artist, letterer, and colorist all in one on Canopus, Instrumental, and more.

  • Music Lover: Chisholm has a passion for music, particularly jazz. He has previously released a music-centric comic, Instrumental, and is also a professional trumpet player.

  • Multitalented: Chisholm is often the sole creator of comics that he works on, filling the role of writer, artist, letterer, and colorist all in one on Canopus, Instrumental, and more.

  • Cat Lover: Chisholm has two cats, named Tillie and Penny.


Peter Markowski – Colorist (Markowski's website)


  • Multitalented: Markowski is not only a colorist - he is an illustrator, animator, and instructor as well.

  • Markowski is currently Art Directing for Dreamworks TV.

  • He has also previously worked with such companies as Warner Bros. Animation and LEGO.

HOW DO I READ IT?

The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.

All characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright of their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



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