Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen’s It’s a Bird was published by the well known comic book and graphic novel production company “Vertigo.” “Vertigo” is known for producing other successful names such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Y: The Last Man, and V for Vendetta so it is not a surprise that they published a graphic novel as compelling as It’s a Bird. This autobiographical graphic novel tells the somber story of a man whose family lives under constant duress, their lives in no small part defined by their fear of a lethal disease called Huntington’s.
The story opens up with a flashback to Seagle’s childhood. He is sitting in the hospital reading a Superman comic book with his little brother while waiting for news about his sick grandmother. She is dying of Huntington’s disease, a rare genetic disorder that causes tissue in the brain to waste away, leading to permanent brain damage, loss of motor function, and ultimately death. While absorbed in reading the comic, Seagle overhears a conversation between his relatives that plagues him for the rest of his life. The negative implications of that conversation taint his perception of Superman and everything associated with him.
Jump forward. Seagle is now an accomplished comic book author, and he is asked to don the cape and become the next writer for the Superman. His boss pushes for him to write the story and his girlfriend supports him fully. Most sane people in the graphic novel industry would jump through hoops for a chance at this opportunity, but due to Seagle’s past with this legendary icon, he has reservations. From this job offer on out, the Seagle’s story flies by like Superman in the sky. Arguments erupt, fists fly, and people go missing, all while Seagle consistently struggles with his internal conflicts. However, despite its breakneck pace and somewhat unconventional artistic style, in the end the story comes across as clear and, above all, poignant.Now go back a little bit. To understand a review of a graphic novel, it is best to understand what exactly a graphic novel is. In a very broad sense, graphic novels are an artistic medium integrating words and pictures. They are the literary successors of Action Comics #1 (the very first Superman comic).
Of course, the first thing that most readers notice when picking up a graphic novel is the artwork. It’s a Bird has a unique and well thought-out art style, although at first glance it almost seems amateur. For instance, the panel borders are not perfect black lines that contain within them a finely colored, or computer simulated image. Instead, the borders are jagged and rough, and in some areas give off the feel of a watercolor painting. The deliberate simplicity of the art is meant to amplify the relationship between the reader and the characters in the novel, namely the troubled protagonist Seagle. One panel in which Seagle depicts the deformed and depressing state of his aunt currently suffering from the disease exemplifies this. Take note that while the artwork is gorgeous in execution - not all people will like it, as with any art style - it serves for the most part as only a pretty backdrop for the plot and as a direct representation of Seagle’s inner turmoil.
Seagle himself is an interesting character. While he leads a seemingly normal life writing comic books for his job and living with a loving but nagging girlfriend, his inner self is darkly vibrant and intriguing. Throughout the novel Seagle slides down into deep despair, which makes sense considering the conflict is mostly internal. Seagle resurfaces later in the story as a (mostly) normal human being after the stunning climax. The plot for It’s a Bird is relatively simple, but like its artwork uses this simplicity to draw in the reader and make emotions hit home.However, while the plot is straightforward as whole throughout the novel it strays and roams, detailing Seagle’s acute case of Superman’s writer’s block. Seagle presents his myriad and fragmented ideas for Superman in little, twisted vignettes sprinkled throughout the novel. These one to two page spreads are different from the rest of the novel both visually and conceptually, and serve as the link between the Superman mythos and Seagle’s inner conflict. He uses these little blurbs to expound on, or rather dissect, each aspect of Superman’s history and personality. Seagle takes Superman’s invulnerability, his secret identity, his weakness, and even his costume design and twists them, making them the inspiration for the increasingly touching and nightmarish vignettes mentioned earlier. Each vignette has its own visual style, ranging from completely abstract to extremely realistic. Seagle also pens in several flashbacks to his childhood, which are much brighter and simpler than the rest of the novel. These flashbacks maintain a sense of innocence and youth in order to contrast the dark vignettes of the adult Seagle.
This book is inspired by Seagle’s linked, twin childhood fears of Superman and Huntington’s. Unlike Superman, not very many people want to talk about Huntington’s disease, even though a lot of people carry it.
Why would people talk about the time bomb tick, tick, ticking away in their veins?
This work is brave in that it calls attention to such a time bomb, to the disease. In some regards it is a work that needed to be published; It’s a Bird may be a personal story but it deals with the hopes and dreams of generations of people affected in one way or another by Huntington’s. Superman is just the icing on the cake.