He’s still the greatest. I’m talking about Muhammad Ali, of course. He’s also the star of a new graphic novel from Titan Comics, due in February. I should note that this isn’t the first time Ali has been the star of a graphic novel. He’s headlined several others already, including one in 1978 where he fought Superman. And won. Because of course he did.
But what Titan has planned should put all those previous efforts in the shade. “Muhammad Ali Kinshasa 1974” blends artwork and photographs from what was the most watched live TV event of its time: the World Heavyweight Championship, nicknamed “The Rumble in the Jungle,” between Ali and George Foreman on Oct. 30, 1974, in Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo).
Yes, I said artwork AND photos, with a story by French comics writer Jean-David Morvan (“Spirou & Fantasio,” “Wolverine”).
“It all comes from one night when I was bored at home, watching television,” Morvan said. “I looked at my comic book and photo bookshelves and thought to myself: ‘Hey! I like both disciplines, what if I do comics about photographers?!’ As Magnum Photos is an agency that groups together many photographers that I love, I looked for contacts on their site (French and American) and I just wrote it down.
“A few days later, Clement Saccomani, who worked in Paris, replied; we met and that’s how the comic Magnum project was born,” he continued. “You always have to start in the simplest way, sometimes it works.”
But Morvan didn’t start with Ali — he built up to him. “We made a comic on Robert Capa, one on Henri Cartier-Bresson, one on Steve McCurry, a graphic book on Raymond Depardon, and the Ali by Abbas is the fifth,” Morvan said. “Abbas was the director of the Magnum Foundation; he supported the creation of the overall project. It was great to make a book with him, especially since his photos and his story at the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ was great!”
For the record, the late Abbas (he died in 2018) was a world-renowned photographer, originally from Iran. The “Rumble” photos are directly from his personal archive.
So that’s two-thirds of the project accounted for. Argentine artist Rafael Ortiz (“Crossed,” “God Is Dead”) came in later. “It’s a looooong story,” Morvan said, “because Rafa was not the first designer approached for this project. Besides, I didn’t know him yet when we set this album in motion. But the designer who started had to stop for personal reasons and Rafa finally took his place after a few months.”
And the result is gorgeous. The photos are eye-popping, as was the event itself. Meanwhile, Ortiz will sometimes lead up to the action in the photo and follow it afterward. That’s the integration, a graphic story with photos as exclamation points.
But it’s not a story if it’s just a bunch of pictures and drawings, no matter how beautiful. Morvan’s job was to bring this historical event and its lead characters to life. “What interested me was that, through the paths of the main characters of this book, we could tell the state of the world at that time,” he said. “This comic is much more than the story of the match. And this is often the case in big sport stories.”