Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past


Down the Comic Book Trail with Bob Dylan

Bookmark and Share

Down the Comic Book Trail with Bob Dylan

“No one knows Bob Dylan,” Rudy Wurlitzer told me earlier this year, “absolutely no one.”

In the July 2009 installment of the Deconstruction Zone (“Rudy Wurlitzer, Bob Dylan, Bloody Sam, and the Jornado del Muerto”) we explored the intersection between the careers of Wurlitzer and shape-shifting songwriter and performer Bob Dylan in the early ‘70s via Sam Peckinpah’s revisionist western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Wurlitzer penned the screenplay and Dylan appeared in the film as the enigmatic character of Alias).

cover art

Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan’s Songs

Bob Dylan

(W.W. Norton; US: Nov 2009)

It was with amusing synchronicity then that the reissue of Wurlitzer’s Flats and Quake should end up on our desk for review in the same month that Bob Dylan Revisited dropped into our lap for consideration.

Presented by publisher W.W. Norton and Company as “a standing testament to the universality and transcendent vision of Dylan’s American music”, Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan’s Songs, is nothing more and nothing less than reinterpretations of the lyrics of 13 classic Dylan tunes by leading contemporary graphic artists, many of them French. Unfortunately, attempting to appreciate the work on display in Bob Dylan Revisited is like visiting an art gallery without a guide or trying to understand Dylan’s own baffling persona without a fleet of psychiatrists at your side.

“No one knows Bob Dylan,” Rudy Wurlitzer told me earlier this year, “absolutely no one.” A very apropos comment from Wurlitzer, considering that we just spent the last 3,000 words briefly exploring the implosion of self and self-identity, a topic that no meaningful analysis of Dylan’s life and career could possibly hope to avoid.

“Americans are spoiled,” Dylan declared to an interviewer in the late ‘70s, “they expect art to be like wallpaper with no effort, just to be there.”  (Speaking at a press tour for Renaldo and Clara,  1976.)

Oddly enough, Dylan’s sentiment employs the precise verbiage this writer would use to describe Bob Dylan Revisited, a work sanctioned and approved by the artist himself and Sony Music. There are some outstanding artists onboard such as Dave McKean of Sandman fame in an epic, operatic interpretation of Dylan’s Desolation Road, and Gradimir Smudja’s sepia-toned, semi-documentary approach to Dylan’s ballad Hurricane is certainly memorable, but, as the man said, writing about art is like dancing to architecture and to compound matters there is no there there in Bob Dylan Revisited.

Bob Dylan Revisited just lays on the page like yesterday’s dead fish wrapped in the Sunday Funnies; there are absolutely no artist bios in the book and no creative or mission statements from the 13 artists. It is well-known that the gifted Dylan is a difficult and controlling public persona, so one cannot help but wonder if his endorsement came at the cost of overshadowing the artists involved in the creation of the book, keeping the focus entirely centered on the man and his lyrics.

As much as I admire Dylan – his music forms a virtual soundtrack to my life – this promising book reeks of a vanity project that seeks to downplay the artistic contributions of others while further promoting an artist who needs no further promotion and who most certainly did not arrive at his mythical status all by his lonesome. (Interestingly, Norton credits Bob Dylan as the author of the book.)

“They’ll rebuild all of this and we won’t remember it happened,” a refugee says in Wurlitzer’s Quake. “That’s the way of this country. Thank God, my dear, that we can’t remember who we are, what we come from.”

Rodger Jacobs has won multiple awards and grants for his work as a journalist, documentary writer and producer, screenwriter, playwright, magazine editor, true crime writer, book critic, columnist, and live event producer. He provided the preface and original inspiration for Jack London: San Francisco Stories (Sydney Samizdat Press) in 2010.

Deconstruction Zone
23 Mar 2011
Despite her love of books, Jackie Kennedy Onassis spent a lifetime trying to prevent people from writing about her, sometimes with the accompanying threat of legal action. Her entire life was led with one arm thrust outward, eyes cast downward, keeping the world at bay.
3 Feb 2011
Much as Walt Disney would do with his famed television programs of the '50s and '60s, Lynd Ward used his talents with watercolor, oil, brush and ink, mezzotint, and lithography to illustrate hundreds of inspiring historical biographies of true-life American heroes for children to admire and emulate.
10 Jun 2010
Marion Meade's new book begs the question: Are literary biographies necessary? Somewhere in the afterlife, Nathanael West is having a good chuckle.
4 Feb 2010
“The chief proof of a man’s real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness. It argues... a power of comparison and of appreciation which is in itself proof of nobility.”
Related Articles
20 Mar 2015
This is not just a great Peckinpah film, but perhaps Hollywood’s last great classic Western, a film of tremendous self-reflection and deep sadness.
19 Mar 2015
As Elliot Murphy tells PopMatters, the new reimagining of his 1973 debut Aquashow may be the most profound musical adventure of his 40-plus year career yet.
2 Mar 2015
The attacks of 9/11 may have caused a noticeable shift in the lyrical content of musicians and even sonic changes in the short term, but, in the end, normalcy finds a way to settle in.
2 Mar 2015
The legendary singer/songwriter Bob Dylan gets away with murder in the old-timey noir music video of his Frank Sinatra cover "The Night We Called It a Day".
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks

© 1999-2015 All rights reserved.™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.