Sympathy for the Cannibal

seabrookThe cover of The Abominable Mr. Seabrook looks like the beginning of a horror story—a single man between two bottles of booze, a horrified expression crossing his face as he looks up.

So begins the tale of famed journalist William Seabrook (1884-1945), the writer who popularized the term “zombie”.

The memoir was written by Joe Ollmann and is based on ten years of research. It takes us through Seabrook’s life—from his early days as a journalist at a desk to his adventures as a travel writer. In the numerous books he wrote, the tone is always idyllic, engaging, and sympathetic as Seabrook hoped to spread the knowledge of the cultures he experienced. 

The writer hid a darker side as a (barely) functioning alcoholic and S&M enthusiast, who was entranced by the mystical properties of pain and cannibalism. His travel writing made him famous, and kept his dissatisfaction and low self-esteem at bay for a time, before his abrupt suicide in 1945.

Ollmann’s painstaking research pays off, offering a rich and detailed look into the writer’s life. He treats Seabrook with compassion, detailing a childhood that perhaps foreshawdowed the subject’s questionable interests.

His art also seems perfectly suited to the subject, with thick, blunt, scratchy lines and smoky blue-grey tones to illustrate a life filled with disappointment, and a personality that was both charming and frustrating at the same time.

The book’s finale, in a way, celebrates Seabrook’s life, and leaves us with a fascinating impression of a man who struggled to match his dreams with reality. 

Available in now
By Joe Ollmann
Drawn and Quarterly
316 pp, $26.95

Original appeared in issue 1109 of VUE Weekly. The comic was provided by Drawn and Quarterly for review purposes. 

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