Drawn to Key West
Writer/Artist: Theresa Chiechi
Colorist: Vanessa Matte
Letterer: Ellen Chao
There tends to be a fine line between myth and truth in non-fiction narratives, and it’s not always easy to distinguish one from the other. Illustrator Theresa Chiechi (Ithaqa) has found a workaround for this by simply embracing the fact that these type of stories should erase the line dividing the two elements and embrace the magic that comes from the resulting combination. Chiechi’s comic, Drawn to Key West, is a perfect example of this, of the beautiful creations myth and truth can produce together.
Drawn to Key West, written and illustrated by Chiechi with colors by Vanessa Matte and letters by Ellen Chao, is a cultural voyage through Key West, Florida with an emphasis on the lives of the street performers that occupy Mallory Square, a plaza located on the waterfront in the city’s historic Old Town district. The plaza is known for its Sunset Celebration, a nightly festival filled with vendors, artists, and street performers.
The comic unravels as a kind of living document that turns Key West itself into a well-developed character, complete with backstory, that Chiechi carries along with her as she interviews entertainers, performers, and key figures that made the Sunset Celebration a sustainable event night in and night out. Chiechi draws herself as the story’s narrator and it’s appropriate given how much Key West fits into her personal history.
What truly succeeds in Drawn to Key West is how expertly Chiechi balances all of the types of storytelling forms she incorporates into the comic. It effortlessly transitions from colonial history to family trips to local history and so on, all to set up and contextualize each of the interviews as if the continuous growth and flow of the place is ever-present and palpable.
As the series stands, each issue focuses on a main street performer and their life journey to the piece of Mallory Square they’ve turned into their stage for the many tourists that frequent Key West. In this regard, Drawn to Key West is cultural history at its finest. Nothing is spared for the sake of simplicity or length. It’s as if Chiechi knew every single detail mattered, and it shows in every page.
Of equal importance is Chiechi’s own story within the city and how it shaped her and her creative drive. The story is personal but also measured within it. It doesn’t overpower any of the other perspectives Chiechi wants to highlight in her comic. And yet, it’s what gives the story that breath of life that permeates throughout it. Readers get to know Key West as the author knows it and it feels like getting an inside look at the making of her own story.
The art does a magnificent job of capturing the magic behind it all, especially the mythic quality of Mallory Square. The plaza is presented as a living, breathing space that feels as if it’s exclusively made for art. Matte’s colors and Chao’s letters capture the warmth behind Chiechi’s lines with playfulness and experimentation, but are also aware of the comic’s intention of doing the location’s already eye-popping beauty justice.
The art is always a panel away from being animated and it makes for a very relaxed read. In a way, it makes the reader feel as if they’re on vacation in Key West. Its brightness and the way elements such as the wind at the waterfront are captured put you right in the city with a trip to Mallory Square already planned.
It’s not often reading a comic book makes you feel like you’re literally inside it, walking between the panels. Drawn to Key West does that, impressively. The comic hasn’t wrapped up its story yet and its available in Chiechi’s website, which you can find here. It’s a guaranteed trip to paradise with an expert tour guide making sure you have the best time you can possibly have.
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Make plans for the Sunset Celebration.
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