Miami Book Fair: Melvin Van Peebles

Categories: Culture
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To try to breeze through the accomplishments of award-winning writer, director, playwright, composer, and auteur Melvin Van Peebles would be more like making your way through an onslaught of gale-force winds.One of the pioneering black artists in America's history, he has contributed highly acclaimed works of art such as the groundbreaking piece of cinematic candy, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, which is still referenced as one of the most innovative examples of guerrilla filmmaking to date. 

Though his storytelling surely sizzles on the silver screen, his ability to translate the human experience to the page is equally electrifying. When applied to his latest tome, a somewhat surprising foray into the graphic novel genre with Confessions of an Ex-Doofus Itchyfooted Mutha, Van Peebles tells a story he knows all too well. Though not totally autobiographical, it is a familiar tale of living, learning, and an undying desire for a black man to live life on terms which only he can define. "Doofus, it takes him awhile to get it," he explainS of the story's protagonist. "So when he does, it's like 'DUH.' And when he comes out on the other side, he's an ex-doofus. It finally gets clear to him what's going on in the big wide world out there, and that's just the way I do my work. I try to put in something that I haven't seen or that I would love to see."

Of the many obstacles Doofus has to endure before being awarded with an "ex-" in front of his name, the ride he takes in the beginning of the story is probably the most potent. After hitching a ride with a truck-driving goon, Doofus is forced to take a hasty dive into the Hudson River to escape heat-wielding thugs who believed in the mantra "Shoot now, ask later." Doofus, the lucky sap, thinks he's a goner but is rescued by an inner tube headed for the bright lights of New York City. The near-death experience followed by his emergence from the river results in a rebirth that leaves him dripping with the amniotic fluids of the big city. It is there where Doofus begins an adventure that takes him overseas, to love, and, finally, to self-awareness.

Throughout his career, Van Peebles has consistently blasted through rules of convention, whether it was becoming the first black man to sit on the New York Stock Exchange or the first to enter the director's union. He's known for composing works in ways that have never been done before, so when conceptualizing the format of Confessions, he did his research, discovered the increasingly popular genre of graphic novels, collaborated with rising star Caktuz..?!3, and did it his own way using film stills as well as illustrations. "As far as I was concerned, it's a dream to draw the things that you had in mind," he says, "[to show that] this is what I mean, this is what I mean... I really like the idea of a graphic novel. It's not very complicated, but I find it a wonderful way of telling what you're thinking."


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