When I first heard of "The Hockey Saint" a graphic novel by Howard Shapiro, I wasn't sure what to think. I mean, it checked two pretty cool boxes in my book right off the bat, but I guess the first image that came to mind was "Slap Shot" meets "The Dark Knight Returns." It does have some remnants of each of those classics, but instead of a lot of BIFF! POW! hockey action, it's more of a personal story, putting the game the players and the way especially the way we view them into perspective.
On the surface it's a story of a college hockey player who befriends his idol and finds out that there is a lot more to him than goals, assists and fights. The real meat of the story for me though, is in its critique of the hockey media (see Dark Knight reference above) and how much it, and we as viewers, project narratives, personalities and roles upon real people that we truly know very little about. Without giving too much away, the hockey superstar character, Jeremiah Jacobson, is portrayed as someone under intense media scrutiny and as such afraid to show his real personality (for better or worse) to the world, attempting to live privately allowing the public's perception of him to spiral out of control in a number of ways.
It really is a unique work, not only in that it seeks to make a statement about hockey, media and the culture of idolization through a somewhat unexpected medium, but it also has a couple of cool features that I've never really seen before. Aside from the story and artwork that one would normally appreciate a graphic novel for, one of the really interesting parts of the book is, surprisingly, the acknowledgement page which includes everyone from the standard publishing/creative team, family and friends to hockey bloggers and rock bands from Bob Dylan to The Clash (obviously an AC favorite) and Rancid. Once you begin reading, you understand why in a hurry.
There are a ton of really cool music references throughout the story, but also each chapter is paired with "Recommended Listening" tracks to set the tone for what you're about to read. For example, Chapter One, entitled "Don't Fade Away" is matched with Jack Johnson's (not that one) "Upside Down" and "Sent by Angels" by the Arc Angels. It's an interesting way to take the story beyond the visuals and the text and give it a more cinematic quality, which I guess is why the acknowledgement page lists it as a "Supersonic Storybook" that was "filmed on location" in Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Milan, Calgary, London, Austin, Los Angeles and Toronto.
Beyond that there is even another way to take the experience more interactive. There is a fictional retro hockey video game referenced through out the book called "Battle of Montreal" that you can actually play online at www.thehockeysaintgame.com.
So, I recommend it highly, especially if you're looking for a last minute gift idea for the hockey/comic book fan on your list. It's available on Amazon, and in the meantime check out some sample pages below.
Thanks to the author, Howard Shapiro, for the review copy and sample pages. Also s/t to the other artists Illustration: Marcia Inoue, Color: Andres Mossa and Lettering: Ryan Ferrier.