Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie Fleming

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie Fleming is an interesting addition to the graphic memoir list. In the book, she traces the many steps she takes to discover more about her own great-grandfather, a man who was once popular in the old vaudeville circuit at the turn of the century. The details she uncovers make for a fascinating story. It also serves as a sort of cultural history as she includes references not only to political situations but popular films, songs, and more. Fleming made a film about her search, one that actually began with the discovery of a film of her grandmother and her great-grandfather. Seeing these images stirred up a series of questions, ones that she didn’t realize she even carried. How did her forefather learn magic well enough to become a famous magician in the vaudeville community? How did he meet his Austrian wife, Fleming’s own great-grandmother? What brought him to America? So much missing information led Fleming on an intercontinental quest in search of her family’s own history. Filled with quirky images, stills from her own movie, and even snips of imagined golden age comics that tell the amazing story of her great-grandfather. And it is amazing. Everyone from the Marx Brothers to Our Gang had experiences with the family as they toured the country. Avoiding political upheaval, struggling with bureaucracy, the story moves through countries and history while unraveling the ambivalent mystery that is the story of Long Track Sam. I applaud Fleming for creating an exciting and interesting document to compliment her documentary film. Her quirky drawings, especially stick girl, are the perfect compliment to the primary source materials that are also included throughout. There is no clear resolution. This is life which is sometimes messy. Thankfully, the story doesn’t degenerate into a search for salacious skeletons to expose the family’s seamier history. Rather, the story is confusing and complicated and inconclusive. Much like life.

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