Meadowlark: A Coming-of-Age Crime Story

Image of Meadowlark: A Coming-of-Age Crime Story
Release Date: 
August 10, 2021
Grand Central Publishing
Reviewed by: 

a stunning tour-de-force . . . that will surely set a new benchmark for graphic novels and what they can achieve in a literary context.”

Perhaps you've seen him in feature films such as Training Day (2001) or Boyhood (2014), for which he received Academy Award nominations for best performance in a supporting role. You might also be aware of his Oscar-nominated screenplays for Before Sunset (2004) and Before Midnight (2013).

Ethan Hawke's face is instantly recognizable on the big screen, and his name also jumps out at us from the front covers of his three novels, The Hottest State (1996), Ash Wednesday (2002), and Rules for a Knight (2015).

In the same way, if you're an aficionado of high-quality illustration, you'll be familiar with Greg Ruth, whose work has appeared in comics published by DC, Caliber, Dark Horse, and others. He's also illustrated several children's books in collaboration with Barak Obama, James Preller, and Ji Li Jiang, and published the graphic novel The Lost Boy (2013), a New York Times bestseller.

These two luminaries in their respective fields have come together to bring us the graphic novel Meadowlark: A Coming-of-Age Crime Story. In fact, it's their second collaboration, having previously released Indeh in 2015.

The graphic novel medium is ideal for storytelling that combines visual and narrative elements effectively when the writer and the artist work well together, and in Meadowlark this seems to be the case.

Ethan Hawke has written a bleak, noirish crime story about failed fatherhood and a boy searching for direction. Jack “Meadowlark” Johnson is a former boxer who's now working as a prison guard in Huntsville, Texas, and he's about to make the worst mistake in his life after a long series of cumulative errors in judgment that have finally caused him to hit bottom.

His son Cooper, who idolizes his dad and only wants him to be around every now and again, is already starting down his own road to bad endings. On this fateful day, Jack is chivvied into taking Cooper with him to work just as a prison break explodes—with Jack's help.

What follows is violent, chaotic, and relentlessly destructive to the human spirit. Can young Cooper not only stay alive through it all but also find a way to salvage some sort of hope for his own future?

Like many talented illustrators of the past who have taken strong narratives and translated them into memorable visual form (think Jack Kirby or Barry Windsor-Smith, for example), Greg Ruth tells this story in his own way.

His color palette is restricted to sepia tones over pen and ink, and he uses his panel size and layout effectively to slow the action down or speed it up according to the situation unfolding on the page. Not to mention varying the size of the lettering in his speech bubbles to reflect tone of voice and volume.

His decision to model Jack after his co-author, as though Hawke were playing the role in addition to writing it, is also something that works well.

The result is a stunning tour-de-force that takes Hawke's Texas noir and elevates it to a level that will surely set a new benchmark for graphic novels and what they can achieve in a literary context.