cover image Willie Nelson: A Graphic History

Willie Nelson: A Graphic History

Edited by T.J. Kirsch. NBM, $19.99 (88p) ISBN 978-1-68112-262-5

This anthologized graphic bio packs the eventful 60-plus-year career of the deceptively laid-back dynamo musician Willie Nelson into such a slim package that the attempt can’t help but fall short. Taking a uniformly upbeat approach, Kirsch (Pride of the Decent Man) and a half dozen other artists (each illustrating a chapter in styles ranging from moody to simplistic) start with Nelson’s small-town Texas childhood and his wandering, “sometimes wildly contradictory” young adulthood during which he taught Sunday school and began enjoying marijuana. Despite his laconic persona, Nelson is a scrappy hustler, singing and playing guitar in seemingly any bar with a stage and shilling his DJ recordings. After years of struggle, he moves to Nashville and grinds away as a songwriter, finally getting a hit when Patsy Cline records “Crazy.” Uncomfortable with the Nashville industry machine’s “forced polishings,” Nelson returns to Texas in the 1970s, where his eccentric style brings together “hippies and rednecks” and helps birth the “outlaw music” genre. Nelson’s later decades—founding Farm Aid and supergroup the Highwaymen, and hitting setbacks such as owing the IRS more than $16 million—are flatly recounted (though marital affairs add some drama). It’s a just-the-highlights approach, which, despite evident enthusiasm for Nelson, can’t quite capture the enduring appeal of the “elder statesman” of country. (Sept.)