Creator: Dave Chisholm Flats: Dustyn Payette
Publisher: Z2 Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A reluctant jazz musician enters a strange, spiritual space each time she plays her trumpet to try and save her mentor. The blue's been documented by musicians (and a very famous record label,) but Jessie Choi's nightly journeys take us on a tour of the jazz greats, and give us a masterclass on what makes this uniquely American form of music so unforgettable.
In the blue, she encounters some of the most famous, creative and expressive ghosts of jazz's storied past - and finds a little more of herself along the way.
Think Bird with a dash of Mo' Better Blues, but the truth is I've rarely encountered something quite like this graphic novel. It defies all expectations, pushes the boundaries of sequential art, and transcends both music and comics.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Trumpet player Jessie Choi vows she'll never play jazz again after a bungled solo during a school performance. Now, she teaches music, hangs out with her mentor, Jimmy Hightower, and enjoys her life in the city. No gigs, no trumpet playing, no potential embarrassment to be had.
One night, Jimmy's playing a set a local club when he falls into an inexplicable coma. A distraught Jessie finds herself in a strange liminal space the same evening: the blue. There, she sees Jimmy, and the shadows of many other players who've come before. As Jimmy's body fails in the here and now, Jessie sets out to bring him back by playing jazz each night and entering the blue with the help of her friends, and one strange jazz aficionado.
Can she save her beloved mentor, square her relationship to her own music, and survive her wild, creative encounters in the blue?
Chisholm's art is absolutely the star of the show. The blue spreads are gorgeous, impressionistic and experimental in ways we haven't seen yet from Chisholm, and they're delightful. Chisholm works with color at one point to get a particular musician's outlook (and the book's larger theme) and it's a beautiful moment
Chisholm gives us a crash course in jazz standards and giants in Enter the Blue through an ingenious storytelling device that's worth keeping under wraps until you're able to pick up a copy of this excellent book. We're given history, character depth, esoterica and humor at once
As Jessie struggles to find Jimmy and accept that she's on a quest to find herself, too, there are some neat horror moments to balance the whimsical nature of the blue. No spoilers, but there's one particular scene with a famous musician that Chisholm paces out to get to a maximal tension, and when it snaps it's perfect
We also get to see Chisholm stretch his legs with some comedic beats in between the more intense musical treatises. Chisholm's love of (and deep understanding of) music absolutely comes through, and there's joy in it, but there are some light touches here that delight just as much as the set pieces and spreads. Chisholm experiments a few times with a repeated panel or stretching a character's physique for a comedic pause, and they're fun gems to find amidst the more fantastical story beats
Chisholm's colors are always interesting, and impressive. The fall daytime hues capture the essence of living in a city, while the pigmentation during the club scenes hints at the vitality of those performances and artistic moments. Jessie's subdued and washed out during the day because she's not doing what she's supposed to be doing with her life, but she comes alive later on under the stage lights, and in the blue
The scenes in the blue are expansive and creative. Chisholm experiments with smaller panels, chaotic layouts and intense conversation that requires some careful balloon placement. There's a lot of text but it's worth reading, and Chisholm encourages us to stay and linger on the art, much as Jessie tries to linger each time she enters this space
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Chisholm tends to repeat names in dialogue. It doesn't detract from immersion in this piece because there's a kind of rhythm to the back and forth on the page, but it's there
In the digital version of the book, the font is a little small. I'd recommend physical for the lovely spreads alone, but prepare to zoom in a bit at times to keep everything readable
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Chisholm's creativity and skill are why the OGN was invented in the first place - if you enjoy a total work of art designed and executed by one wildly creative person, Enter the Blue is definitely for you.
For jazz fans, musicians and hobbyists alike, this deep dive into jazz history and the esoteric, personal power of music is a must-read. Chisholm makes music come alive on the page in such a joyful way.
And for anyone who just enjoys darn good craft and a character-driven story about finding yourself and your creative pulse, Enter the Blue is sure to delight. Check it out!
WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Canopus by Dave Chisholm
Blue In Green by Ram V and Anand RK
Dead Beats: A Musical Horror Anthology published by A Wave Blue World
If you like the art:
Chasin' the Bird by Dave Chisholm
Criminal, Vol 1: Coward by Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips and Val Staples
Black Hammer by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston and Dave Stewart
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Dave Chisholm (@chisholmdave)
Multitalented doesn't even begin to cover it. In addition to writing, drawing, coloring and lettering his own work, Chisholm is an accomplished jazz musician in his own right and has a Ph.D. in jazz trumpet!
Chisholm teaches comics and music classes at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and the Hochstein School.
Chisholm's previous music-related work includes Chasin' the Bird and Instrumental.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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