Review: VINCENT by Barbara Stok

Barbara Stok offers us an empathetic view into the life, artistic career and troubles of one of the greatest painters of all time, Vincent van Gogh, in Vincent.

I have been eyeing this graphic novel for some time, mostly because of its titular subject, but have also been hesitant because I did not feel like the art style fit a biography for van Gogh. It seemed like a clash in my head. Nevertheless, I wanted to try it out because most accounts I had heard from other graphic novel fans were aggressively positive, so when I came across it at my library I figured it was time.

It was a blast and I really liked it. The very simplistic cover does not reflect the artistic range of the content, because while there are some panels that fit the minimalism of the cover there are pages dedicated to e.g. the psychotic episodes and epileptic seizures he suffered from and these do not hold back on the elaborate details to portray the state of his mind and his perception of his surroundings.  Honestly, I believe the more calm and simple panels that forego these pages help to make them stand out more and really show off the magnitude of these episodes in his life.

The infamous ear cut incident

Something else that Stok does well with her art is translating some of his works to her own art style – which is bordering on vector graphics – with actual paintings of his in her style and more indirectly with him looking at the world around and getting inspired.

Storywise it is pretty straight forward; we follow his life, financial struggles and mental issues included, and we get an insight into his personality. Van Gogh is brazen as hell, impatient and has a hard time comprehending social norms and the difference in the artistic ambitions of him and his colleagues. He lives for his art and cannot imagine other artists not wanting to do the same as him, i.e. living with other artists and just… doing art constantly.

What I really liked about Stok’s portrayal of van Gogh is that while he has these wildly unsympathetic traits in his personality, she still wants you to feel bad for him and tries to make the reader understand how his problems were. As someone with epilepsy I could relate to the visual depictions of his seizures to some degree, and by seeing the world from his perspective, one starts to get a sense of why he lost his mind with the scenery changing gradually around when his mental health is deteriorating. Often biographies of van Gogh describes him from an external point of view and it is nice to see a different approach to him, with an attempt to convey the mind of a mentally ill artist whose work is still considered some of the best ever.

All in all Stok has created a very respectful portrayal of the great artist and I cannot believe it took me this long to get around to it. Do not hesitate like me, go read it as soon as possible.

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