Review: Bluffton by Matt Phelan


Bluffton by Matt Phelan

Nothing ever happens in Muskegon, Michigan in 1908.  So when a troupe of visiting vaudeville performers sets up their summer camp in neighboring Bluffton, young Henry just has to take a peek.  There he meets Buster Keaton, a boy his age who performs on the vaudeville circuit with his parents.  His father tosses him around as part of their act, gaining him the nickname of The Human Mop.  Henry longs for Buster to teach him how to do tricks and falls, but Buster is much more interested in playing baseball and swimming in the lake.  The boys forge a summery friendship that is renewed as each year passes and summer returns.  It is the story of a young Buster Keaton who will soon take the world by storm when he starts making movies and also captures a time of perfect summers filled with baseball and elephants.

Phelan has returned with another amazing graphic novel.  He takes his own unique approach to them, using the classic framed structure but pairing it with paintings that are done in ink and watercolor.  The result is a gorgeous mix of modern and historical, matching the theme of the book nicely.

In this graphic novel, readers get to meet Buster Keaton through the eyes of another boy.  Those of us who grew up watching Keaton perform amazing stunts will recognize the amazing man in this young boy with no hesitation.  Fascinatingly, the book does not rely on his feats to tie the boy to the man, instead it is about attitude and a defiant fearlessness. 

Strong characterization, a glimpse of summers gone by, and one amazing true story create a graphic novel that is pure radiance.  Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from library copy.