Just out in bookshops is Sir Lenny Henry‘s memoir, Who Am I, Again?, which is not only a terrific read, but also includes comic vignettes of his life story, written by the comedian, drawn by Mark Buckingham and lettered by Todd Klein.
The book itself, published by Faber and Faber, is a candid autobiography of Lenny’s life growing up – story of his early years and sudden rise to fame. If you’ve ever seen his stage act, you’ll already know some of it, but this book is crammed with anecdotes and poignant recollections of his early life, and well worth a read.
Born soon after his Jamaican parents had arrived in the Midlands, Lenny, today an award-winning actor, was raised as one of seven siblings in a boisterous working household, and sent out into the world with his mum’s mantra of ‘H’integration! H’integration! H’integration!’ echoing in his ears.
But 1970s Britain was a hard place, and a bewildering experience for a lone black teenager. A natural ability to make people laugh came in handy. At school it helped subdue the daily racist bullying. In the park, it led to lifelong friendships and occasional snogs. Soon, it would put him on stage at working men’s clubs and Black Country discotheques – before an invitation to a TV audition changed his life for ever.
Just to be clear, Who Am I, Again? Isn’t a graphic novel – it’s a prose autobiography with “strategically placed moments where the text changes to a comic book narrative for added impact” – and for me, they certainly do that.
A comedian since the age of 16, co-founder of Comic Relief, Lenny is well known for his love of comics, sharing some of his favourites with the BBC during the recording of the recording of Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman’s mythical fantasy about the trickster god Anansi and his unsuspecting son, Fat Charlie. These include Spider-Man, Watchmen and The Ballad of Halo Jones.
Lenny recalls drawing himself as an action hero in art classes as a boy at school, dreaming of becoming the next Simon Templar or James Bond.
Mark Buckingham, perhaps best known for his work for DC Comics whose recent illustration work includes the cover for the new The Fierce and the Dead album Live USA 17, has known Lenny for nearly three decades now, “and from time to time we have talked about creating some comics together,” he noted online.
“I was absolutely delighted when Len invited me to work with him on this moving account of his early years, creating a series of comic strip short stories to punctuate the prose, bringing to life visually some of the key moments in his childhood.
“Lenny wrote the wonderful scripts, I illustrated them, and the amazing Todd Klein provided the lettering.”