One could say that the very first time Janis Joplin appeared in comics-format, was on the sleeve of her first major studio recording,Cheap Thrills (with Big Brother and The Holding Company). That sleeve, created by underground god R. Crumb, featured, amongst others an impression of Joplin’s, well, impressive singing style.
Now, 47 years after her death, Joplin has become the subject of a full-sized graphic novel, Piece of My Heart, created by Italian fumettista Giulia Argnani and published by Edizioni BD. Even though the book is presented as a biography, it mainly focuses on the last ten years of Joplin’s life. We learn how her fights with her mother because of her non-conformist behaviour, the clashes with boys of her age and her discovery of Bessie Smith’s work shape a talent that would burst into the open at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and would collapse only three years later, with Joplin’s untimely death at the age of 27.
The book is part of a series of rock-themed comics, and the publisher approached Argnani with the project. And even though as a graphical biographer, she aimed at being as truthful as possible, the book is also a story with a message. It’s about what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated world, something that Argnani attests knowing far too well as a female cartoonist.
The book’s style is very accessible, as if Argnani has tried to shy away from the traditional, underground style that’s roughly associated with rock comics. Nevertheless, it’s not a glamourized star story, but shows the successes along with the downfall of a great talent, and in that way earns its place next to books like Reinhart Kleist’s Cash: I See A Darkness (reviewed here), or Jean-Michel Dupont and Mezzo’s Love in Vain.