Superzelda: The Graphic Life of Zelda Fitzgerald, Review

Review Bridget LaMonica 3/27/2013 at 11:02PM

Superzelda: The Graphic Life of Zelda Fitzgerald by Tiziano Lo Porto is an interesting approach to biography.

By Tiziana Lo Porto
Illustrations by Daniele Marotta

Superzelda: The Graphic Life of Zelda Fitzgerald is a biography of the whirlwind life of the titular character. She's more than just the wife of Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald. She was the inspiration for many of his main female characters. But Zelda was her own person and a writer herself. Dubbed “The First American Flapper,” Zelda showed the world that she was an individual with strong opinions and her own independence. This graphic novel in 176 pages sums up the life of Jazz Age icon Fitzgerald and brings to light great detail about this woman.

Journalist Tiziana Lo Porto crafted this graphic novel by cleverly utilizing the written work of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, obtaining quotes from their short stories, letters and interviews. It makes the whole novel feel like an extended interview with these fascinating people. There's the occasional interlude with comments by their famous friends like writers Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, John Dos Passos and the wealthy painter Gerald Murphy. These other comments provide another look at the lives of Zelda and Scott and how they appeared to outsiders.

There are many times when Zelda or Scott “break the fourth wall.” By that I mean the character acknowledges the reader and the narrative. In this case they turn to face the reader and tell us what happens next. It's an interesting storytelling device that gives a glimpse of the future and a bit of perspective. An unusual way of doing things, but a good kind of unusual.

Zelda's character is evident early on in her childhood and as a young adult. She turns to her mother and says “I want to go to New York, Mamma. To be my own boss.” In narration, later, “Zelda is simply fearless. She's not afraid of boys and she's not afraid of being the target of gossip. She's afraid of absolutely nothing.” In July 1918, Zelda and Scott meet at a dance. They begin their courtship, but Zelda is not a prize to be easily won. At one point, Scott complains about how they haven't kissed each other for two weeks. He thought a girl was won over by a kiss. Zelda remarks, “I have to be won all over again every time you see me.” They eventually marry and on their wedding night are kicked out of the Biltmore Hotel for partying. This begins their lifestyle of partying, socializing and travel. She is equal parts feminist hero and spoiled brat.

It's not all fun. The narrative is filled with the troubles of married life. Zelda and Scott argue more and more. They don't seem able to agree on anything. Scott disapproves of Zelda's dance lessons and Zelda grows furiously jealous when Scott shows interest in another woman. They can't even sleep together at night without some form of disagreement, as Scott prefers the window closed and Zelda wants it open. On matters of writing, they also spat. Scott insists on editing Zelda's manuscript and actually plagiarizes directly from Zelda's letters to him in his own novels. If you thought that was all, you'd be as surprised as I was to find Zelda's mental health steadily deteriorating. She is diagnosed with schizophrenia by Dr. Bleuler, the very doctor who coined the term.

The illustrations by Daniele Marotta capture the times: the changing fads and bobbed hair. The clothes are fairly well represented as well, like the briefly mentioned one-piece bathing suit (quite a change back then, as the swimsuits from the late 1800s to the early 1900s resembled dresses rather than what we consider swimsuits today). The Fitzgeralds visited many different locales during their lifetime, from the French Riviera Côte d'Azur to Naples, Italy, New York and Los Angeles.  The title page of each chapter shows an updated illustration of Zelda and a title that encapsulates what this stage of life is like for the Fitzgeralds. Daniele Marotta captures the essence of Zelda at every stage of her life, which can be no small feat.

The drawing style has the sketchy, old school advertisement look. It's only in black, white and blue, but flashy colors are not needed for this biography. The blues are used to create the shading and tones of the clothing and to fade out the background.

I think the purpose of this graphic novel is not to glorify the life of Zelda Fitzgerald. It certainly doesn't sugarcoat things, showing the glamorous side of her life all the way to the fights with Scott and an entire page dedicated to her suicide attempt. The book advertises itself as biography, love story and travelogue all in one. That's very accurate. What it also shows us is a main character with a complicated issues and ideals. It's a great way to become caught up in a biography without having to make the time investment on a traditional biography. However if one is interested enough, they are then invited to take a gander at the source materials for Superzelda, such as the biographies Zelda by Nancy Milford and Scott Fitzgerald by Andrew Turnbull. Certainly check out Superzelda. It's a bit sized chunk of history and an enjoyable read.