cover image Leonard Cohen: On a Wire

Leonard Cohen: On a Wire

Philippe Girard, trans. from the French by Helge Dascher and Karen Houle. Drawn and Quarterly, $24.95 (120p) ISBN 978-1-77046-489-6

Canadian rocker-poet Leonard Cohen’s tumultuous life and career gets an oddly muted replay in this graphic biography from Girard (Haiti). Framed in mordant fashion by Cohen’s final thoughts as he lays dying on his bedroom floor in 2016 (“All alone, like a dog”), the narrative cuts to postwar Montreal, where Cohen pursues his priorities (“wine, women and song”) with a dour determination. Wandering from London to a small Greek island, he plucks away at a minor poetry career before turning fully to the guitar. Trying to break through as a singer-songwriter in 1960s New York, he hobnobs with some rock stars (Lou Reed) and romances others (Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin). The ups and downs are narrated in a straightforward, episodic fashion with simple character drawings, often layered with a depressive torpor appropriate to Cohen’s musical mood. Girard hits all the major touchstones, from the surprise late-in-life fame from Jeff Buckley’s hit cover of “Hallelujah” to Cohen’s manager defrauding him out of millions, and the artist going into a Zen monastery. Girard’s focus on Cohen as a complicated man is well detailed, but it leaves limited space for untangling the complexities of his musical and literary output. All the necessary elements are in play, but they’re not quite in tune. (Oct.)