USEREVIEW 074 (Capsule): Leonard Cohen: On a Wire

A.G. Pasquella/ April 20, 2022/ Book Review, Capsule Review

Philippe Girard (Writer and Illustrator), Helge Dascher and Karen Houle (Translators)
Leonard Cohen: On a Wire (Drawn & Quarterly, 2021)
ISBN 978-1-77046-489-6 | 120 pp | $29.95 CAD — BUY Here


This graphic biography of the famous poet and musician from Montreal is told in a series of flashbacks as Cohen lies dying. To condense a life as rich and varied as Cohen’s in a mere 119 pages is no easy task but Girard’s flashback format makes it work. Cohen’s ethos is best summed up on page 20, where he is shown sneaking out a widow instead of working on his novel: “I don’t want to be a magician. I want to be the magic.” In that moment he decides to be an artist instead of a craftsman, a decision that for him paid off and led to a lifetime of worldwide celebrity. His interactions with fellow celebrities like Janis Joplin (sexy times!) are fascinating and informative, too. I knew Nico from The Velvet Underground was an addict but I had no idea she was a violent racist. That doesn’t stop Cohen from trying to have sex with her, though.

Leonard Cohen: On a Wire is an excellent overview of Cohen’s life and also a beautiful graphic novel. The use of colour in particular is extremely well done. I highly recommend this book for fans of Leonard Cohen and for fans of graphic novels in general.

Recommended excerpt:

Much of Cohen’s character is revealed in pages 38 to 40, where he witnesses Nico assault a Black woman, learns Nico is an “Aryan racist junkie,” and decides to try to pick her up anyway. Luckily for Leonard, Nico shoots him down, which is probably for the best.

A.G. Pasquella’s writing has appeared in various spots including Black Book, Broken Pencil, Joyland, McSweeney’s, The Believer and Wholphin. He is the co-editor (along with Terri Favro) of PAC’N HEAT: A Noir Homage to Ms. Pac-Man. A.G.’s three novels in the Jack Palace Series, Yard Dog, Carve The Heart and Season of Smoke, are available from Dundurn Press. More: @agpasquella

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