Godspeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic Novel review

The life and times of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain is captured in the graphic novel, Godspeed. Here's Glen's review...

As I’m sure is the case with many others, Nirvana was a band that meant a great deal to me as a teenager and helped shape my musical tastes by exposing me to styles of music that, up to that point, I was unfamiliar with and turned me on to the numerous bands that Cobain would mention in interviews, such as The Pixies and The Vaselines. They’re still a band that I enjoy greatly to this day, but I don’t listen to them with the frequency I did in the years when I was forming my tastes.

Given Cobain’s high profile ascent to fame and the manner in which he exited, it’s little surprise that so much has been written about him over the years. Cobain and Nirvana were able to capture the zeitgeist, and willingly or not, he became, in many ways, the voice of his generation and someone whom millions of fans worshiped.

Many books and articles over the years have depicted Cobain’s life from his formative years up to his suicide in great length, including the publication of his journals and letters a few years back.

So, the upcoming reprint of this graphic novel, originally published in 2003, has some competition for audiences’ attentions, but has a unique selling point in that it’s an illustrated account of Cobain’s life, and in the absence of an actual cinematic biopic (no, Last Days doesn’t count), this is the next best thing. Although, when an actual film is inevitably made, I hope the material is handled much better than it is here.

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Cobain is presented in a rather simplistic way that depicts him as little more than the tortured artist who is able to harness his talent, but not his vices. It does little in the way of exploring some of the subtleties of the man, despite some half-hearted attempts here and there. 

I appreciate that, given the length of the novel, writers Barnaby Legg and Jim McCarthy were presented a challenge in covering all of the key areas, but I can’t help but feel that it does Cobain a disservice, in light of how he’s portrayed. The book could either have done with being much longer, or simply focussing on a key area of his life, rather than cram it all into 70-plus pages.

One thing that surprised me about the graphic novel was how positively Courtney Love was portrayed here. I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing. But, as with the depiction of Kurt, it would have been far more interesting had they both had a little more depth to them, rather than presenting shallow depictions that offer very little in the way of insight as to how they are as people.

Both were clearly complex characters with good points and bad points, as is the case with everyone. Sure, their lifestyle didn’t match up with what most considered to be the norm, but it would have been nice to see some shades of grey here.

Cynics may argue that the overwhelmingly positive way that Love is portrayed is a crass attempt at seeking her approval. Weight is added to this argument at the rear of the book, where there are some preliminary sketches and the following quote is included: “Courtney Love, if you view this book and you are not happy with how I have drawn you, I’d be happy to draw you in any manner you wish.”

The artwork is one of the book’s greatest strengths. Artist, Flameboy, captures the likenesses of those depicted rather brilliantly, and the majority of the frames feature a great deal of attention to detail that is sadly lacking from the textual depiction of those included.

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As something of a music geek, I got a kick out of going through the book after a couple of read-throughs looking out for things like Mudhoney t-shirts and Pixies posters that have been accurately recreated.

The book’s other great strength is a wonderfully written introduction by writer, Peter Doggett, who has written about music for a number of years, and captures who Cobain was as a man and what his legacy means more effectively in five pages than Legg and McCarthy managed in 70.

To those who have read even a few of the numerous books and articles charting the events depicted here, GodSpeed : The Kurt Cobain Graphic won’t tell you anything you didn’t already know before. But still it remains a fairly interesting read that acts as a surface level depiction of the significant events of Cobain’s life from childhood to suicide and, as such, should appeal to fans of Cobain and Nirvana and act as an interesting supplementary document to the numerous and far more indepth books available.

GodSpeed: The Kurt Cobain Graphic can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.

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3 out of 5