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Stagger Lee Paperback – May 3, 2006

3.8 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tracing the factual origins of a legend that has undergone hundreds of permutations over the years, McCulloch and Hendrix blend a fictional narrative with a detailed look at the documented information and myths of Lee Shelton, or "Stagger Lee." Best known to today's audiences thanks to Lloyd Price's 1959 #1 hit recording, the tale is a prototype for the "gangsta" image in black American song-story, an archetype even presented as a Caucasian character when the story headed west in the late 19th century. The basic account revolves around a fatal dice game in which Lee shot and killed one Billy Lyons. McCulloch's script interweaves the recorded facts of the incident with close scrutiny of many of the song's versions and its changing significance as American society progressed, bolstering the cultural archeology with a fictional account of the political upheaval caused by the murderer's trial. McCulloch covers much territory, and sometimes loses its thread, but sharp dialogue and characterizations maintain interest. Hendrix's solid art captures the story with a documentary precision, making this worth a look for those with an interest in America's musical history. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


[R]emarkable....As a work of scholarship as well as a roaring good tale, Stagger Lee is one of the finest graphic novels of the year. (Grade: A) --Entertainment Weekly

This outstanding and well-researched historical fiction spins its own compelling version of the tale, focusing on Shelton's black lawyer, a young legal assistant, and a local piano player who writes a song based on current events. While recounting the circumstances of Stag's two trials involving racism, political corruption, prostitution, and drug abuse it masterfully interweaves flashbacks that reveal a possible motive for the killing and accounts of the various Stagger Lee songs, with some insightful commentary on how the legend has changed depending on the singer and the times. McCulloch creates convincing, multifaceted characters, and Hendrix's sepia-toned artwork is effectively realistic. With sex and mature situations, this is for adult collections. With historical notes and a list of Stagger Lee songs appended, this is strongly recommended. --Library Journal

Stagger Lee brilliantly puts the shooting in the context of the politics of the time (1895) and place (St. Louis), and puts the politics in the larger context of race. Most of the characters in Stagger Lee are historical, although McCulloch and Hendrix throw in an entirely fictional love story. It's great stuff. --Jon Carroll, San Francisco Chronicle

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 205 pages
  • Publisher: Image Comics; 1 edition (May 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582406073
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582406077
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.8 x 10.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #943,500 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Guy L. Gonzalez on December 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
The first time I read Stagger Lee, months ago when it first came out, I was blown away by its ambition, a sprawling blend of [loosely] historical fiction and docu-drama centering on, but not confined to, the "legend" who spawned a multitude of songs, Stagger Lee, aka Stacker Lee, Stagolee, Stack-A-Lee, Stack O'Lee.

As writer Derek McCulloch lays it out, the underlying truth of the story, and the sole point upon which every version of the song agrees, is that Stagger Lee shot Billy Lyons. From there the details vary, sometimes drastically depending on the teller, and McCulloch incorporates that variety into his own version of the tale as colorful, informative interludes to his main storyline, the defense of Stagger Lee, aka Lee Shelton, and the toll it takes on those involved.

Injecting several key fictional characters into the tale, McCulloch crafts a compelling take on the truth behind the legend -- equal parts courtroom drama, love story, and social commentary -- that deftly weaves together the corrupt political dealings of late-19th century St. Louis and the personal interactions of a handful of its negro citizens whose lives are touched by Lee Shelton's crime in various ways. Among those affected are Shelton himself, whom McCulloch wryly posits was likely to have heard at least one of the earliest interpretations of his crime first-hand.

In many ways, Shelton is a spectactor to his own story as Justin Troupe -- legal assistant to the morphine-addicted defense attorney, Nathan Dryden -- takes center stage in a sub-plot that pulls several of the underlying historical threads together into a story that would be noteworthy on its own, separated from the "musical" interludes.
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Format: Paperback
I was drawn to this book because I'm a blues fan and a bit of a Stagger Lee geek--I've been researching the music and folklore related to the badman for several years now. Having read Cecil Brown's book "Stagolee Shot Billy", I was familiar with the historical events that this graphic novel deals with, and I had my doubts that these events could be translated well into a work of historical fiction. But writer Greil Marcus, the man who chronicled the Stagger Lee legend in his classic rock 'n' roll book "Mystery Train", praised McCulloch's and Hendrix's book in the June issue of Interview magazine, which is about as good an endorsement as could be made as far as I'm concerned.

So I started reading "Stagger Lee" with high expectations, and the book certainly delivered. Writer and illustrator have teamed up to create a great piece of storytelling, mixing fact, fiction and folklore in a compelling way and presenting it with graphics that do a convincing job of conjuring up a place and time where it all happened. I just wish that more time would have been spent in developing the character of Lee Shelton, the man who shot Billy. I don't think that the book brings out the fact that Shelton was a pimp. It would have been interesting to probe his psyche and his relationships with his fellow pimps and the ladies who worked for him.

I had never read a graphic novel before this book. If you're in the same boat, don't be put off by the mistaken idea that you're reading a comic book. For me, it was like reading a script with the bonus of having it completely storyboarded. When I was a kid, comic books were for children and most movies were made for adults. It's a different world now: most movies are made for children, and comic books have evolved into an intelligent, new form of entertainment for adults. Reading "Stagger Lee" is a wonderful introduction to this new art form.
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Format: Paperback
I just finished reading Stagger Lee and wanted to compliment the writer and the artist on their accomplishment. I have always been a fan of well written historical fiction. I define "well written" as re-telling a familiar story in way that the reader is still wandering what's going to happen next. That makes Stagger Lee very well written.

The story plays out in some ways more like a docu-drama than pure historical fiction as it compares fact and folklore while interweaving compeling fiction. The art serves to compliment the story rather than to compete with it. Bravo.
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I'm a huge music fan and love reading about the origins of songs.

When I first heard "Stagger Lee" by Lloyd Price I has no idea I was listening to the 'cleaned up' version of the song, or that it had roots in a true story. It was just an awesomely cool melody with a mind-numbingly catchy rhythm and 'go Stagger Lee' chorus.

This book juxtaposes actual incidents, 'modified' facts and several incarnations of the characters in popular music.

The graphic novel is presented in novel 'brown and white' evoking a sense of sepia-tone film. The artwork ranges from photorealism to extreme caracature depending on whether the narrative is illustrating colorful lyrics or cold facts.

The background story is a mix of fact and fiction, designed to elicit a feeling for the racial tension in turn-of-the-century America as blacks desperately tried to maintain a sense of self-respect while battling daily bigotry from the powerful white establishment.

It's all here, action, drama, politics, revenge, justice and a hooker with a heart of gold.

My single criticism is that McCulloch and Hendrix tried to fit so many characters and events in a mere 214 pages. I was having trouble keeping up with who was who.

This book would make an awesome mini-series.

Go Stagger Lee!
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