Isadora Duncan A Graphic Biography

Sabrina Jones; Foreword by Lori Belilove

Hill and Wang




144 Pages



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An American Library Association Great Graphic Novel for Teens Winner
A Texas Library Association Young Adult Round Table Recommended Graphic Novel
 Myth and controversy still swirl around the dramatic figure of Isadora Duncan. The pioneering modern dancer emerged from provincial nineteenth-century America to captivate the cultural capitals of Europe, reinvent dance as a fine art, and leave a trail of scandals in her wake. From her unconventional California girlhood to her tragic death on the French Riviera fifty years later, Duncan’s journey was an uncompromising quest for truth, beauty, and freedom.  Here Duncan’s art and ideas come vividly to life. Each page is a unique dance of words and images, reflecting Duncan’s courage, passion, and idealism in a way sure to inspire another generation of admirers.


Praise for Isadora Duncan

"It looks like a comic book, and it is a ton of fun. But Sabrina Jones' graphic depiction of the life of Isadora Duncan is also a serious work of biography. It synthesizes much of what we know about the bold and sometimes bizarre doings of one of the great dance innovators of the 19th and 20th centuries, from her bohemian California childhood to her artistic conquest of the cultural capitals of the world, to her macabre death (she was strangled when her long scarf got stuck in the wheel of an open roadster she was riding in). But it also points out the parts of her story that are contradictory or unknowable. Most remarkably, in just 125 fluidly drawn pages, Jones (one of the originators of Fantagraphics' Girl Talk) brings Duncan's astonishing creativity, revolutionary fervor and romantic disasters to life."—Lynn Jacobson, The Seattle Times

"To articulate the intricate story of a maverick, any real maverick, is no easy feat. And to tell the story of Isadora Duncan would be hard for even the most ambitious of biographers, but Sabrina Jones chose a good medium in which to attempt it. In her debut graphic biography, Jones captures Duncan's dramatic story in an impressive fashion. Who knew plain black and white illustrations could come so alive, so full of movement and feeling? Romance, politics, tragedy, and art twist and whirl together in the pages of Jones' book as she recounts Duncan's life in chronological order, beginning with her childhood in San Francisco where she was raised by a free-thinking, single mother. We follow her on her travels to several European capitals, where she felt her performances were far more appreciated and understood than in her native America. After all, it was in her home country that she got in trouble for a Janet-Jackson-at-the-Super-Bowl-like performance at the Boston Symphony Hall. The book ends with her tragically famous and crazy death on the French Riviera in 1927. Like her dancing, Isadora Duncan was modern beyond her time. Her radical views about education, woman’s independence, marriage, and single motherhood drew the scorn of some and the admiration of others. She led an intrepid life, and rightly knew that we take nothing with us when we go. She wasted little time with the rarities of society, and while she might not have always been happy or right, she unquestionably ruled her mind, her body, and her spirit. Most importantly, she knew the fundamental difference between living and existing."—Laura Koffler, Feminist Review

"Sabrina Jones is a designer, artist, and cartoonist whose work has appeared in a variety of radical and underground publications. She also paints scenery for film, theatre, and television, as a member of United Scenic Artists Local 829. She co-founded an anthology of women's autobiographical comics, Girltalk, that was published by Fantagraphics in the 1990s, and she is a longtime editor of World War III Illustrated. Her comics are featured in Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World (2005), and in the forthcoming The Real Cost of Prisons Comix, which addresses the war on drugs, the economics of the prison boom, and the impact of incarceration on women and children. Sabrina's first complete book, Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography, has just been published by Hill and Wang. The book offers a graphic art celebration of one of the founders of modern dance. [Isadora Duncan] is one of a number of recent graphic books on nonfiction subjects that are helping to redefine and even reinvent comics for a new century."—Kent Worcester, Words and Pictures magazine

"Not too long ago, the term 'graphic nonfiction' might have referred to how-to manuals, editorial cartoons or field guides to flora and fauna. But recently, Farrar, Straus and Giroux has released several works by nonfiction writers using pictures to help tell a story—to leaven a dense topic or to help the information flow. The topics are as varied as the U.S. Constitution, modern dancer Isadora Duncan and the human genetic code. Brooklyn artist Sabrina Jones is not new to graphic nonfiction. She's worked on several issues of the political comic book World War 3 Illustrated and on nonfiction comics for Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, The Real Cost of Prisons and other projects. In Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography, she sets the record straight on myths and legends surrounding the great modern-dance pioneer, some of which Duncan created herself. In an introductory essay of quotations and pictures, Jones observes that Duncan's own account of her life, placed alongside other sources, doesn't add up—prompting the author to draw one of those little speech bubbles above the head of a girl who is reading both: 'She lied!' She debunks Duncan as a Communist revolutionary, noting that 'she was as proud to dance for the Romanov dynasty as she was for Lenin'—leading the author to quip, 'Revolutionist or opportunist?' These disparities between myth and reality are amplified by the fact that there is no film of her dancing, so impressions come from her contemporaries, whom the author quotes. Dancer Ruth St. Denis described her as 'the ecstatic liberation of the soul.' The evangelist Billy Sunday is quoted as saying, 'That Bolshevik hussy doesn't wear enough clothing to pad a crutch.' After that introduction, the author begins the story with the dancer's childhood. Her black-and white drawings are mostly functional, except for the flowing and voluptuous treatment of the dancer in motion, which seems to capture something of her spirit. It's an effective and surprisingly economical portrait of one of the seminal figures in dance and culture of the past 100 years."—Michael Gill, The Cleveland Free Times

"In Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography, a writer and illustrator named Sabrina Jones has certainly come up with something different, capturing the highlights of Duncan's life in memorable images. And as Lori Belilove points out in a foreword to Duncan, there is no reason to question the accuracy of what Jones has written. The book's bibliography includes 11 mostly scholarly works. Duncan can be viewed as either a good crash course on Duncan's life or a similarly useful refresher. Before I came across Duncan, I had never read a graphic novel, much less a graphic biography . . . The book's drawings, particularly of Duncan, are expressive, aided by a flowing tunic that Duncan wears whether she is dancing or not. The writing is full of the kind of sassy irreverence that characterized much of Duncan's personality and outlook. Marriage, for example, is dismissed as enslaving to women. There is humor—as when, for example, Duncan describes labor in these terms: 'The Spanish Inquisition was mild sport in comparison.' And the scene documenting how Duncan and her lover, Raymond, sailed to London is priceless. They made the journey on a cattle boat. The reader/viewer gets a real appreciation of how far Duncan traveled in her life. Her artistic journey began in San Francisco, took in several United States cities and covered much of Europe. That she found success at all in Europe seems miraculous in retrospect, what with all the differences in language and customs with which she contended daily. Duncan's life was larger than life. Still, I was often struck by how closely it paralleled the struggles that many artists face today. She was often hurting for money, and much of the public found her work either baffling or scandalous or both. But knowledgeable critics championed her work, savvy impresarios kept her before the public, and generous patrons often kept her going with monetary gifts. In the end, not all that much changes in the arts world."—Ken Keuffel, Winston-Salem Journal

"First they make the US Constitution cool again, now Hill & Wang do what big time comic book publishers like IDW (with their Barbiturate-laced Presidential Material biographies of Obama & McCain) fail to do: make an interesting biography. This book succeeds for the same reason The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation does: it presents the story and art in a genuinely creative manner. In this case, writer/artist Sabrina Jones' fascination with the influential dancer is evident from the very first page. Jones shows great artistic range by transcribing the ups and downs of Ms. Duncan, a true free spirit who lives in a time when it wasn't accepted to do so. Although poo-pooed by the elite for her barefoot and robed dances reflecting inner thoughts and feelings rather than classical ballet techniques, Isadora managed to raise children, marry, develop her own schools of dance, and influence modern dance to this very day. Sure, the spandex and 'splosions crowd may scoff at this type of book, but it serves as a true testament to the versatility of comic books and a gateway drug to a whole new population that may have never stepped into a comic shop. Who said learning has to be boring? Reading these books by Hill & Wang really taught me something—something I can't say for the latest (or any) issue of Asbar. In the end, Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography is a book done with care and oozing with affirmation for and inspiration to those bold enough to dance and dream."—Ain't It Cool News

“Isadora Duncan and comics have a great deal in common: convention defying, boundary breaking, innovative, and seductive as hell. Which is why comics are the perfect vehicle to transmit her remarkable story. Sabrina Jones’s drawings dance across the page and capture this compelling history.”—Peter Kuper, cartoonist and cofounder of World War 3 Illustrated

“At last, a comic for the rest of us! With bold brush strokes, Sabrina Jones delineates the riveting tale of Isadora Duncan, a real life superheroine who controlled her own body, her own life, and her own mind, back in the days when most women were corseted, voteless, and stuck in the kitchen. Jones’ pages are as elegant and graceful as the heroine of her biography.”—Trina Robbins, author of Tender Murderers and The Brinkley Girls: The Life and Times of Nell Brinkley

“Told with economy, precision, and humor, Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography is an impressive debut.”—Harvey Pekar

"Sensational, glamorous, revolutionary: for nearly a century, the superlatives used to describe Isadora Duncan have wrapped the woman behind the legend in tantalizing mystery, much the way her classically draped dance attire covered (or revealed) her body. Though a plethora of books (including her own audacious autobiography) and photographs documented Duncan's leap from ballet's rigid discipline to the development of her own modern style, this slim volume is the first graphic biography whose exuberant pen-and-ink drawings perfectly capture the fervid life of this dance icon. Chapter by chapter . . . Sabrina Jones's curving lines and graceful letters chronicle a story that feels as fresh and immediate as if it were happening today. Beginning with Isadora's childhood in California, where she was raised in the chaotic but loving charge of her single mother, the pictures prance across the page and the world, to Paris, Berlin, Budapest, and Vienna. In Greece, Duncan seeks the roots of her expression among the temples of antiquity; in Russia, she embraces Communism and founds a state school. Lovers are seduced. Riches and recognition come and go in waves. Duncan bears two children, Deirdre and Patrick, who are later tragically killed when their car rolls into the Seine. And though we well know that Isadora met her own end in a bizarre car accident, the vitality that delivers this dramatic story to old admirers and 'a generation in flip-flops' alike resonates like the hum of an audience, so electrified by the performance that they are still crackling with energy long after the curtain falls."—Lydia Dishman, Barnes & Noble

"An admiring glance at the truncated life and roller-coaster times of the woman who traversed three continents to revolutionize dance."—Kirkus Reviews

"Using a variety of sources, including Duncan's autobiographical writings, Jones provides context for her examination of this complex woman. It includes recognition of the differing sensibilities of Americans, Europeans, and Asians of the time that spanned the turn of the 20th century through the opening years of the Roaring Twenties, as well as the individuals closest to Duncan: siblings, lovers, students. There were many visual artists and theater people who admired Duncan's energy and insight, among them Ashcan painter Abraham Walkowitz. His thousands of sketches and paintings of the dancer in full flight served as resource material for Jones. Duncan, in her flowing Grecian gowns and unfastened hair, is depicted bounding across multiple panels on many pages in Jones's often witty black-and-white images. This is a fine and balanced account for dancers, artists, and those interested in American rebels."—Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia, School Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



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Sabrina Jones’s art has appeared in World War 3 Illustrated, Female Complaints, Bitchcraft, and Life During Wartime. A native of Philadelphia, she co-founded and edited Girltalk, published by Fantagraphics.
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  • Sabrina Jones; Foreword by Lori Belilove

  • Sabrina Jones’s art has appeared in World War 3 Illustrated, Female Complaints, Bitchcraft, and Life During Wartime. A native of Philadelphia, she co-founded and edited Girltalk, published by Fantagraphics.
  • Sabrina Jones