cover image Francis Bacon: The Story of His Life

Francis Bacon: The Story of His Life

Cristina Portolano, trans. from the Italian by Katharine Cofer. Prestel, $24.95 (128p) ISBN 978-3-7913-8842-7

Italian cartoonist Portolano offers a brisk graphic biography of the painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992). Bacon, born in Dublin to British parents, faces family rejection for his effeminacy and moves across Europe, relying on sex work for survival. As a late teen in Paris, Bacon fixates on becoming a painter, and his self-taught career lurches from early critical derision to eventual success and acclaim—after he destroys the paintings of his first show. Various lovers, including one who dies by suicide, are featured. A “life of the party” type, Bacon spends liberally, then dies in the care of nuns. Portolano skims over many details, with shallow coverage of secondary players, but manages to convey Bacon’s well-connected social circle and erratic personality. The occasional pop-in portrayal of the narrator as one of Bacon’s monstrous figures is a nice detail, as are the evocative panels where Bacon’s imagined creatures intrude in the real world. Portolano pays homage to Bacon’s bruise-like palette in coloring, and her crisp lines and careful use of shadow read fluidly. While some panels elide backgrounds, others fill that space to amplify Bacon’s veering emotionally between chaos and isolation. Readers who want more than a highlight reel will be disappointed, but there is plenty of raw feeling here, echoing Bacon’s own oeuvre. (Apr.)