Tuesday, March 11, 2014

WGTB Reviews The Life and Times of Conrad Black: A Wordless Biography

Few Canadians are more polarizing than Baron Conrad Moffat Black of Crossharbour. Born in Montreal, Quebec to beer baron George Montegu Black Jr., and his wife, the daughter of an insurance magnate, Jean Elizabeth Riley, Black was educated in such bastions of the Canadian establishment as Upper Canada College and the Trinity College School (both Toronto in the area) before completing degrees at Carleton, Laval and McGill universities, finishing in 1973. Education notwithstanding, it was seven years prior that Black started down the road towards what he is best known for being a newspaper proprietor when he purchased the fledgling Quebec-based Eastern Townships Advertiser in 1966. This would lead to Black and his family starting the investment company Ravelston Corporation and the systematic acquisition of newspapers across the globe over the course of the next three decades. Black and the companies he controlled would eventually go on to own such influential broadsheets as the Chicago Sun-Times, The Jerusalem Post and Britain's Daily Telegraph.
The Life and Times of Conrad Black: A Wordless Biography, George A. Walker, The Porcupine’s Quill, 2013, pp. 221, C$22.95
But all this would change in July 2007 when 
after a very public trial he was convicted in a Chicago court of corporate fraud and sentenced to six and a half years in a US federal prision. He would go on to serve only three and a half years after which he returned to Canada where he currently resides in a tony Toronto neighbourhood. The Life and Times of Conrad Black: A Wordless Biography by George A. Walker is an unorthodox treatment of the above story done through 100 prints of wood engravings. So while this book is not a graphic novel in the conventional sense of the phrase, it is nevertheless a very interesting take on one of the most loquacious and controversial Canadian exports of recent memory.

Lord Black, the Baron of Crossharbour was given a Life Peerage by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2001. This was opposed by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who citing the 1919 Nickle Resolution, a motion in the Canadian House of Commons that prevented Canadians from recieving British honours, forced the two parties to go to court. The case Black v Chretien in the Ontario Court of Appeal saw Black lose his case and subsequently give up his Canadian citizenship. All images from The Life and Times of Conrad Black.    
The book starts with a well written introduction by the author who explains the purpose and goal of the book, making it clear this is not a hit piece and should not be viewed as one. Rather, the book tells the story of Conrad Black's life through masterfully crafted images and transitions one image at a time from his earliest beginnings to his resettlement in Canada after prison. As a long-time reader of comics, I have often heard that the panels of graphic storytelling should be thought of as the highlight moments of a longer narrative such as a TV show, film or novel and this book takes that to an extreme. In 100 images you see such mountains as Black being made a member of the Order of Canada and valleys as his incarceration by the US government. Other significant images include meeting Pope John Paul II, a significant event for a convert Roman Catholic and Black sweeping the floor of a prison cell. 

Conrad Black after purchasing the Daily Telegraph. The "Torygraph" was an extension of Black's conservative ideology in the UK.    

Pope John Paul II was a towering figure in conservative politics of the 1980s and Black, having been received into the Church in 1986, would not have missed an opportunity to meet the pontiff.

But it would all come crashing down in 2007 when Conrad Black was convicted of fraud in a Chicago court.
This is an interesting book and as mentioned, a very unorthodox telling of Conrad Black’s story. As a work of art it is a very well done and an accomplishment in so many ways. It does lack as a work of history; not having the information to give readers a sense of who this man is. But that's clearly not the point, and the book in so many ways is a superlative expression of Black's flawed and complicated humanity. And in this respect it's very good. When Black achieves, he is represented as doing such. When he fails, he is fairly represented as well. In this reviewers mind, the above cited image of Baron Black of Crossharbour sweeping a prison floor remains the most potent and is emblematic of not only Black's failings, but how fleeting each and every one of our own successes can be. With a $22 price point it is an expensive purchase for what amounts to a half hour read, but it is still an interesting and well crafted work of art. Read in conjunction with a solid history, it would certainly be valuable at highlighting the key moments in Conrad Black's life, giving the reader a much better sense of who Lord Black is.  

Admittedly, before his fall from grace, I was an admirer of Black and this is what attracted me to the book. Having read his books on US presidents Roosevelt and Nixon, I continue to admire him as an historian, but as a convicted felon the lasting image I'll have of him is that of carrying Bankers Boxes of corporate documents from his Toronto office. Nevertheless, like the subject of the book or not, The Life and Times of Conrad Black: A Wordless Biography and its 200 images is a remarkable account of the life of a remarkable individual and a very interesting "read" overall.  4/5 STARS

No comments:

Post a Comment