Originally published in three volumes released between 1993 and 2003, King, Ho Che Anderson’s much acclaimed graphic biography of Martin Luther King, will be re-released in a special revised hardcover edition in February in conjunction with the beginning of Black History Month. Hailed for its extensive research into the life of King and for its vividly candid, almost cinematic recreation of the Civil Rights leader’s life, King: The Special Edition offers previously unpublished pages in addition to a variety of supplementary materials that include original script pages, extensive sketches and character designs, alternate cover art and an essay by Anderson on his struggles to complete the book.
Fantagraphics is releasing a first printing of 7,000 hardcover copies of King: The Special Edition ($34.99, 312 pages). Previous editions of the book released by Fantagraphics sold a combined total of about 25,000 copies before going out of print. Anderson’s biography follows King’s life from his childhood and university years to his rise to prominence as a fiery Baptist minister and the path to becoming the controversial leader of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s. The book recreates King’s life—his brilliant oratory and social accomplishments as well as his personal failings—documenting both the danger of the times and the violence aimed at the movement and its followers as well as the behind-the-scenes political maneuverings between King, his own organization and a succession of American presidents.
“There’s a prescribed version of King’s life that turns him into a saint,” Anderson said in a phone interview. “He hasn’t been allowed to grow beyond that, but there’s more to his story,” Anderson said noting that the book includes King’s relationships with women as well as contemporaneous criticism of his strategies by both his supporters and his adversaries. Indeed, Anderson said that King was “a mystery to me” while he was growing up, which he said turned out to be an advantage. “I kind of took him as I found him,” he said.
Although he started work on the biography in 1991 with plans to publish 3-volumes over the next few years, the first volume was released in 1993 to great critical response followed by a ten-year gap before King 2 was released. Why the wait? “It wasn’t paying the bills,” Anderson admitted. “By the end of the first book I had a kid, a girlfriend and I needed money. I was being pulled in different ways by my personal dramas. The book had 200 pages that needed to be done and it became a burden. So life intruded but I got it done.”
Over the course of working on the book for nearly 17 years, Anderson’s drawing style changed as well as his response to the book itself. His expressionistic but rendered drawing style became even more expressive, chiascuro-driven and block-like over time. Anderson also worked with Chicago-based cartoonist Wilfred Santiago, who penciled about 14 pages that remain a part of the book. Anderson has also dropped a number of sections that were published in the original editions (like a DVD-bonus, he has included these dropped pages in a special section at the end of the book) and added new material and drawings throughout. The work also uses a variety of photographic source material and manipulated photography to add a level of realism. “I like the mixed media approach and I wanted to remind the reader that these aren’t just scratches on paper—they’re real people,” Anderson said.
Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth originally approached Anderson about doing the biography. Although the book took much longer to complete than originally planned, Groth said, “I was just waiting for him. I’ve learned over that time that it’s pointless to push artists to finish things.” Groth said earlier editions of the book had done well in the library market, though not as well in the school market. He said he hoped to be able to release a trade paperback edition eventually. “It’s a warts and all book that goes into King’s personal life and some schools may just shy away from it,” Groth said. “But the timing may be better right now for this kind of biography. Our distributor, W.W. Norton, has been encouraging about orders for the book.”
“It’s an intensely vivid biography of King,” Groth continued, “because Anderson combines both the personal and the public in it. Because of its visual exuberance the book captures King in ways that prose simply cannot. Anderson really brings King and the whole period to life.”