It is perhaps unsurprising that a book called Josephine Baker tells the life story of the American dancer, singer, and activist who went by that very name. What is more surprising is that the authors, Catel Muller and Jose-Luis Bocquet, decided to tell her story in graphic form. If it at first looks like some kind of epic tome, do not be put off. Despite its bulk, it tells Baker’s story with speed and efficiency. Some might even say it’s a little too fast and efficient.
Because Baker’s is a story that deserves a lot of care in the telling. Famous at first for her provocative and controversial dance shows, she later became a singer and actress who was known around the world. Following this she would become a civil rights spokesperson who even appeared on stage beside Martin Luther King Jr on the day of The March on Washington. She would also, once she realised that she was unable to have children of her own, become the adoptive parent of a dozen orphans from the far flung corners of the globe. They became known as her Rainbow Tribe. With these children and the home she had built for them, Josephine aimed to show the world that you could come from different places and still be family.
An admirable person and a fascinating life, I’m sure you’ll agree. And Catel and Bocquet do a good job of presenting a huge amount of information using the graphic novel form. If there was to be one major criticism, though, it might be the uneven amount of attention given to certain areas of Baker’s life. The book spends a good deal of time discussing her multiple marriages and affairs, and concentrates heavily on her sexual exploits, but is then much less focused on her activist activities. There can be no argument that all of this information is important to gain a full understanding of the person behind the famous name, but more time spent on the factors that made her such an important figure would have been appreciated.
Any Cop?: Many people will be relatively unaware of Josephine Baker, and for those this is a good place to start. There is also a useful timeline that follows the main story. But unfortunately this isn’t much more than an introduction to its subject. If Baker is a figure you are already familiar with, or someone about which you’d like to know more about a specific element of her life, then you may be better served by looking elsewhere.