It Girl by Jessica Martin – comic review

Clara Bow never had a role quite as good as Clara Bow. This mini comic is a tribute to the beauty and talent of the famous flapper, but also a testament to her tragic life and truncated career. The author, Jessica Martin, is an actress herself, best known for her work on Spitting Image and Doctor Who, so it follows that one of the strongest panels here dwells on the mechanics of screen performance. It’s a triptych of  Bow’s eyes demonstrating the three stages of “it”: lovesick, passionate and innocent. But by and large, It Girl, which was inspired by a TV documentary on Bow, is concerned with the drama off-set: sex, drugs and mental instability.

Black-and-white panels flash back and forth across Bow’s life, looping in her childhood in Brooklyn, her Hollywood glory and her secluded decline. The gutsy rags-to-riches story is suited to the punchy graphic format. Bow’s beauty on screen was manifested not just in her slinky figure and doe eyes but her restless, vivacious movement and the comic-book style expresses this quality far better than a straight portrait or photograph. Bow’s appeal was famously elusive – the famous “It” of the comic’s title – if this graphic novelette leaves the reader craving the real thing that is nothing to be ashamed about.

It Girl plunges the reader straight into Bow’s psychological traumas, opening with a violent nightmare and a suicide attempt, then tumbling fast into a flashback to her childhood hardships. The pace never lets up, and across these 12 pages there is enough incident and emotional pain to flesh out a novel – or indeed a lifetime. It’s a whistlestop tour through a notoriously salacious biography, and as such it’s an experience that is as bewildering as it is bewitching.

Martin’s affection for her subject is tangible, though, and this is an invigorating introduction to Clara Bow. After this taster, it would be a hard heart that didn’t immediately want to reach for a DVD of It or Mantrap.

It Girl can be purchased at officialjessicamartin.com for £3.50 plus postage and packing.

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