Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography


Myth and controversy still swirl around the dramatic figure of Isadora Duncan. The pioneering modern dancer emerged from provincial nineteenth-century America to captivate the cultural capitals of Europe, reinvent dance as a fine art, and leave a trail of scandals in her wake. From her unconventional California girlhood to her tragic death on the French Riviera fifty years later, Duncan’s journey was an uncompromising quest for truth, beauty, and freedom.

Here Duncan’s art and ...

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Myth and controversy still swirl around the dramatic figure of Isadora Duncan. The pioneering modern dancer emerged from provincial nineteenth-century America to captivate the cultural capitals of Europe, reinvent dance as a fine art, and leave a trail of scandals in her wake. From her unconventional California girlhood to her tragic death on the French Riviera fifty years later, Duncan’s journey was an uncompromising quest for truth, beauty, and freedom.

Here Duncan’s art and ideas come vividly to life. Each page is a unique dance of words and images, reflecting Duncan’s courage, passion, and idealism in a way sure to inspire another generation of admirers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Isadora Duncan and comics have a great deal in common: convention defying, boundary breaking, innovative, and seductive as hell. Which is why comics are the perfect vehicle to transmit her remarkable story. Sabrina Jones’s drawings dance across the page and capture this compelling history.” —Peter Kuper, cartoonist and cofounder of World War 3 Illustrated

“At last, a comic for the rest of us! With bold brush strokes, Sabrina Jones delineates the riveting tale of Isadora Duncan, a real life superheroine who controlled her own body, her own life, and her own mind, back in the days when most women were corseted, voteless, and stuck in the kitchen. Jones’ pages are as elegant and graceful as the heroine of her biography.” —Trina Robbins, author of Tender Murderers and The Brinkley Girls: The Life and Times of Nell Brinkley (forthcoming)

“Told with economy, precision, and humor, Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography is an impressive debut.” —Harvey Pekar

“An admiring glance at the truncated life and roller-coaster times of the woman who traversed three continents to revolutionize dance.” —Kirkus Reviews

“It looks like a comic book, and it is a ton of fun. But Sabrina Jones’s graphic depiction of the life of Isadora Duncan is also a serious work of biography . . . In just 125 fluidly drawn pages, Jones brings Duncan’s astonishing creativity, revolutionary fervor and romantic disasters to life.” —Lynn Jacobson, The Seattle Times

“An effective and surprisingly economical portrait of one of the seminal figures in dance and culture of the past 100 years.” —Michael Gill, Cleveland Free Times

“A fine and balanced account for dancers, artists, and those interested in American rebels.” —Francisca Goldsmith, School Library Journal

“In her debut graphic biography, Jones captures Duncan’s dramatic story in an impressive fashion. Who knew plain black-and-white illustrations could come so alive, so full of movement and feeling?” —Laura Koffler, Feminist Review

“One delight after another emerges.” —Ken Keuffel, Winston-Salem Journal

“Illustration is an ideal medium for relating Duncan’s life and art . . . The head thrown back in ecstasy, or her whole body whooshed sideways as if caught on the wind—here a picture speaks a thousand words.” —Mary Hodges, The Brooklyn Rail

Children's Literature - Kathie M. Josephs
WOW! What a fantastic book! I have never read a biography that captured the heart and soul in a way that makes the reader to actually be able to visualize Isadora's dancing and feel the importance of freethinking. Isadora was a dancer from America who eventually ended up in Europe where she both shocked and thrilled audiences. After her husband left her, she took dancing jobs that stifled her talents as she was confined to what the establishment paying her wanted to see. She eventually was able to take the art of dancing from what was expected to what was unexpected. Audiences were provided with beauty of true art and could feel the excitement when watching a woman dancing with heart and soul. This book is written in graphic format, which is a favorite of mine! It makes it perfect for students who are reluctant readers and never seem to finish a book on their own. Young adults who want to read anything they can get their hands on will also enjoy the graphics and fast-paced text. In this book, the graphics add visuals that actually touch the reader. The foreword written by Lori Belilove, gives the reader vital information before starting the book, all of which give a better understanding of just who Isadora Duncan was. Part of her manifesto states, "Why do I dance with bare feet? The human foot is a triumph of evolution. The real source of dance is nature. The movements of the ocean, the birds, and savage man are natural, beautiful, and eternal." This is a perfect book if you love dance, believe in the power of freethinking individuals, and want to read a well-written book. Reviewer: Kathie M. Josephs
School Library Journal

Gr 10 Up

Using a variety of sources, including Duncan's autobiographical writings, Jones provides context for her examination of this complex woman. It includes recognition of the differing sensibilities of Americans, Europeans, and Asians of the time that spanned the turn of the 20th century through the opening years of the Roaring Twenties, as well as the individuals closest to Duncan: siblings, lovers, students. There were many visual artists and theater people who admired Duncan's energy and insight, among them Ashcan painter Abraham Walkowitz. His thousands of sketches and paintings of the dancer in full flight served as resource material for Jones. Duncan, in her flowing Grecian gowns and unfastened hair, is depicted bounding across multiple panels on many pages in Jones's often witty black-and-white images. This is a fine and balanced account for dancers, artists, and those interested in American rebels.-Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia

The Barnes & Noble Review
Sensational, glamorous, revolutionary: for nearly a century, the superlatives used to describe Isadora Duncan have wrapped the woman behind the legend in tantalizing mystery, much the way her classically draped dance attire covered (or revealed) her body. Though a plethora of books (including her own audacious autobiography) and photographs documented Duncan's leap from ballet's rigid discipline to the development of her own modern style, this slim volume is the first graphic biography whose exuberant pen-and-ink drawings perfectly capture the fervid life of this dance icon. Chapter by chapter (festooned with such descriptive titles as "Snowdrop in the Dunes" and "Revolt of the Isadorables"), Sabrina Jones's curving lines and graceful letters chronicle a story that feels as fresh and immediate as if it were happening today. Beginning with Isadora's childhood in California, where she was raised in the chaotic but loving charge of her single mother, the pictures prance across the page and the world, to Paris, Berlin, Budapest, and Vienna. In Greece, Duncan seeks the roots of her expression among the temples of antiquity; in Russia, she embraces Communism and founds a state school. Lovers are seduced. Riches and recognition come and go in waves.Duncan bears two children, Deirdre and Patrick, who are later tragically killed when their car rolls into the Seine. And though we well know that Isadora met her own end in a bizarre car accident, the vitality that delivers this dramatic story to old admirers and "a generation in flip-flops" alike resonates like the hum of an audience, so electrified by the performance that they are still crackling with energy long after the curtain falls. --Lydia Dishman
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809094974
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 11/11/2008
  • Series: Hill and Wang Novel Graphics
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 1,015,157
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Sabrina Jones’s art has appeared in World War 3 Illustrated, Female Complaints, Bitchcraft, and Life During Wartime. A native of Philadelphia, she co-founded and edited Girltalk, published by Fantagraphics.

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  • Posted February 26, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Wonderful Look at the Life of the Mother of Modern Dance


    With this book, I'm asking a generation in flip-flops to imagine how traffic stopped when Isadora strolled down 5th Avenue in her homemade sandals.
    p. 3

    This graphic novel tells the story of Isadora Duncan, the Mother of Modern Dance, from her humble beginnings as the daughter of a piano teacher to her sudden death, due to an overly flow-y accessory and all that came in-between.

    I came to this book knowing a few things about Isadora Duncan, namely that she spawned the "Isadorables;" that her style of dance, which was supposed to be free of training and structure, evolved into a new form of dance altogether in which students can now train and learn choreography that is passed down from body to body much in the way that ballet, which she despised for its "rigidness," has been for centuries; and that she was kind of a boozer. Basically, I know the kinds of things they tell you at the beginning of a modern dance class held during a summer workshop for ballet dancers.

    All of these things are laid out beautifully in the book. But there is so much more! Isadora traveled the (Western, including Russia) world, to showcase her dancing. She gave political performances, that were not all that well-received, and yet she gave them over and over again because she believed in what she had to say. She was a professional dancer who GOT PREGNANT without ending her career. She started schools for underprivileged girls in Europe where they could learn to dance (be "Isadorables") and eat three square meals a day free of charge.

    She also had the first historically recorded wardrobe malfunction and a rather scandalous string of lovers. As Jones says, we all have Isadora to thank for the widespread acceptance of "comfortable dress and serial monogamy" (125).

    Throughout this biography, Jones manages to balance Isadora's personal, professional and family personas. Rather than focusing on just the scandal, just the ground-breaking accomplishments, just the prevalent eccentricities, Jones shows how each was affected and usually enhanced by the others. She also manages to convey a lot of movement, which is what modern dance is all about, for a book of black and white illustrations. Almost every spread shows a swaying, jumping, or somehow dancing Isadora. Her innocent little "I'm not up to anything" face peeks out from every page as well.

    By drawing from Isadora's own autobiography, as well as her other publications and the work of other biographers, including Isadora's most loyal adopted Isadorable, Irma Duncan, Jones puts forth a wonderful look at all of the facets of Isadora's life. This book expresses the freedom and artistry that Isadora spent her life sharing with others.

    Book source: the library

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