Putting The “True” And “Crime” In True Crime : Cathy Hannah’s “The Lonely Grave Of Bobby Franks”

Let’s not kid ourselves : while the poor get locked up for penny-ante crimes like selling pot or smoking crack, the rich quite literally get away with murder on a massive scale. Whether it’s laying off thousands from their jobs with the stroke of a pen, or sending our young men and women in uniform off to die to protect their profit margins, the well-to-do are awash in river of blood, both economic and biological, for which they will never be called to account.

Still, every once in a blue moon, when their callousness and psychopathy leave the realm of the abstract and enter that of the personal, the results are too sickening for even their bought-off courts to ignore. Such was the case with Nathan Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb, two spoiled scions of privilege who, in 1924, kidnapped and murdered their 14-year-old neighbor, Bobby Franks, simply because they felt like it. And while it’s tempting — to say nothing of depressingly plausible — to speculate that they likely would have gotten away with it if their victim were poor, female, black, or any combination thereof, the simple fact is that they stuck within their own demographic and, as such, the “justice” system took an active interest in actually prosecuting them.

The crime lives on in infamy to this day — ditto for the investigation and trial which followed it — and has even been tackled in the comics medium previously, albeit at a remove, in Daniel Clowes’ Ice Haven, but to my knowledge Chicago cartoonist Cathy Hannah’s new self-published squarebound comic, The Lonely Grave Of Bobby Franks, is the first to deal with every aspect of the so-called “Leopold And Loeb Murder” from start to finish, and we should probably add to that “post-finish” given that, as a local, she’s able to offer some informed insight into some of its repercussions that have reverberated in her city throughout the years and even continue to this day. In short, this is a breezy and quick, but undeniably comprehensive read, that admirably opts out of being a summation and instead offers readers a character study that nevertheless doesn’t skimp out on any pertinent details.

What really “sells” the whole narrative, though, is Hannah’s inspired cartooning, steeped as it is in aesthetics that are appropriate to and evocative of the period, but with an absolutely modern sensibility at its core. Her page layouts are dense, yet her use of space within each panel gives the images room to breathe, and while her figures are no doubt basic and display exaggerated body language, her faces are expressive and at times even downright nuanced. It’s a nice blend of elements new and old and, as such, is the perfect vehicle for visually communicating a story that is both very much of its time and timeless.

And speaking of time — or, rather, of timing — Hannah’s probably couldn’t be better, as true crime is all the rage these days, dominating bookstore shelves, broadcast television, streaming services, and especially podcasts to a degree that would probably make even the Kardashians envious. “If it bleeds, it leads” has been the grim battle cry of TV news for decades now, but who could have predicted that something that bled nearly a century ago would still hold the public in its thrall to this day? I guess a thorough-going examination of the true crime phenomenon and its attendant sociological implications is beyond the purview of a simple comic book review such as this, but I mention it in brief, more than anything, to give Hannah credit for approaching her subject matter in an entirely non-exploitative fashion that makes both the crime itself and the uncomfortable truths behind it seem shocking in a way that no amount of “shock value” can replicate.

Whether, then, you’re new to Leopold and Loeb, or are already well familiar with the intricacies and minutiae of the case, chances are that you’ll find this to be a darkly fascinating read. Hannah is a consummate comic book storyteller who has until now perhaps been best-known for her diary comics and autobio work, so I’m pleased to see her expanding her creative horizons and demonstrating her facility for other types of material. I’m certainly game to follow her wherever she goes next.

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The Lonely Grave Of Bobby Franks is available for $10.00 from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/the-lonely-grave-of-bobby-franks

Review wrist check – Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 53 Compression” in its modern classic “Blackout Edition” version. One day I suppose I should throw this on a cool NATO or something, but it looks so damn good on its bracelet that I can’t see much point to mixing things up.

4 thoughts on “Putting The “True” And “Crime” In True Crime : Cathy Hannah’s “The Lonely Grave Of Bobby Franks”

  1. Pingback: She Says There’s Ants In The Carpet – This Week’s Links - Avada Classic Shop

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