Knock Out!: The Story of Emile Griffith

Reinhard Kleist, trans. from the German by Michael Waaler. SelfMadeHero, $22.99 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-910593-86-8
The glorious but tragic story of welterweight boxing champion Emile Griffith is given a dramatic yet cluttered presentation in this graphic novel from Kleist (The Boxer). An immigrant from St. Thomas who found his first calling working for a Manhattan milliner, Griffith was entered into the Golden Gloves after his boss was impressed by his physique. Though boxing is not his dream (“I can’t just pummel other men”) the way fashion (he loves designing women’s hats) is, Griffith turns out to be a natural pugilist. The heady years of success are depicted as sheer delight, Griffith skipping through the frames as he notches wins, and code-switching anxiety as he trawls New York’s gay bars, whose crush of bodies are given the same swirl and dance as his matches. The narrative crux hits in an infamous 1962 Madison Square Garden pairing against Benny Paret. After taunting Griffith (whose sexuality was an open secret) with a homophobic slur, Paret then died after the subsequent vicious pummeling. Kleist portrays Paret’s ghost following Griffith thereafter, a heavy-handed device that obscures rather than illuminates the protagonist’s inner grappling. The black-and-white art is all slashing contrast, recalling Frank Miller’s Sin City, though the dialogue is notably less evocative. It’s an at-times off-key but nevertheless wrenching story of struggle. (July)
Reviewed on : 07/07/2021
Release date: 10/01/2020
Genre: Comics
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