Travis Dandro's King of King Court: A Memoir (Drawn & Quarterly, 2019) is a large, dense book that reads light and fast. The coming of age story is packed with the raw emotional power of the author's traumatic childhood.
Dandro recounts from a child's eye view memories of growing up in a broken home with a drug-addicted father who bullies his child into loving him, an alcoholic and abusive step-dad, and a confused and overwhelmed mother. The story allows the reader to peek into the vastness of a child's imagination, his flights of fancy away from tension, and the refuge he seeks in toys, insects, and whatever else feels interesting around him. Rather than indulge in the complexities driven by lust, dysfunctional relationships, drug use, and infidelity, we see the malleability of a child's mind and his curiosity to make sense of the world around him.
The artwork is simple. The author draws both his child and teenage self in a rather cartoonish manner, with large bulging eyes, a half-circle for a nose, and triangular spikes for hair. The black and white pencil-like sketches mirror the heavy subject of the book, yet they are shaped as though scribbled by a child, punctuating both tender scenes of affection between Travis and his father, and more frightening episodes of drug abuse and violence. The absence of page numbers or too much text enables scene-building in a way that makes the narrative compelling, and often tear-jerking.
Accepting a compliment for a drawing at one point in the book, Travis replies, "Yes, it's the little details that make a drawing come to life." Unlike other memoirs like Fun Home: A Tragicomic (2006) and Maus (1991), Dandro steers clear of jargon-filled soliloquies and narration as a memoirist. It is the little details that allow his readers to interpret his images as they like. This story has no hero, no villain—it just is a life seen through the eyes of a boy hoping to gather meaning out of everything around him. It drives home the point that perhaps, even in a memoir, deciphering meaning can be left up to the readers.
Israr Hasan is a graduate of BRAC University who spends time lapping up classic films, memes, and graphic novels. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.