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The Devil & Miles Davis: Lucifer's Garden of Verses 4    by Lance Tooks order for
The Devil & Miles Davis
by Lance Tooks
Order:  USA  Can
ComicsLit, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

Amo hits a block; the writer's block. Her deadline for a Miles Davis biography quickly approaches and she hasn't even figured out her angle. How does one tackle a subject matter that already has enough books written about it to fill a library? But that's not her only problem; Amo has lost her edge and her fellow journalists are starting to take notice. The rising pressure just causes more irritation and frustration till she finds herself in a crashed taxi cab in the pouring rain. She stumbles into The Smokeasy, a stylish but abandoned bar with only Narcissa in it. They embark upon an evening of discussion and reflection that touches upon a number of topics and will leave Amo a different person than the one who came into the bar.

As in the previous three volumes in this series (this being the final volume), Tooks laces his language and art with inumerable subtleties and double meanings. His books boil with underlying and sometimes blatant depictions of race and racism and this graphic novel is no different. In this volume, Amo's blackness changes once she steps into The Smokeasy. Portrayed on the color cover and within the first part of the book as a person with brown skin and black hair, she enters the bar and becomes a black face with white lips, eyebrows, wrinkles and light brown hair. Narcissa appears in the same fashion, which invokes all sorts of commentary upon how to deconstruct each in regards to the other. But like Tooks' previous books, there remain intentional elements of blackface minstrelsy in his depiction of black characters.

Tooks makes a sincere effort to create comic art that is unique and provocative so that not only his words but the art produces reactions within readers. His sparse use of panels creates a less structured but more easy flow from one thought or action to the next. His bare backgrounds emphasize the importance of the characters and their words, but when he does create vivid backgrounds, art emboldens the particular moment. Word bubbles are another contested ground of artistic exploration for Tooks. He uses word bubbles to indicate speech, yet has no qualms about keeping the words within the bubble; often enough, they go well beyond all sides of the bubble. Character postures also create their own sense of tension and action. Tooks marvelously produces an energy and anger in Amo that can be felt regardless of what she says.

On the surface, there often seems little going on in Tooks' books, but that is part of his cunning. He can be confrontational but one has to really work at it in order to see where he's going with it. Readers will be challenged by this graphic novel, but can reap the rewards of a very talented creator.

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