With so many big names and big events plastered across the shelves of your LCS, sometimes great comics get left behind – buried in longboxes until someone comes along to find these Hidden Gems.
Written and Illustrated by Wilfred Santiago
Published by Fantagraphics Books
”Any time you have an opportunity to make a difference in this world and you don’t, then you are wasting your time on Earth.” Roberto Clemente
Numbers and sport go hand in hand. Along with the teams they play for, a player is easily identified by the number on the back of his jersey. Call out popular players name and a hardcore sports fan will be able to tell you his jersey number. Great players become synonymous with their numbers like Babe Ruth No. 3, Michael Jordan No. 23, Jackie Robinson No. 42, Lawrence Taylor No. 56, Wayne Gretzky No. 99, and Roberto Clemente No. 21.
Wilfred Santiago’ graphic novel 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente does a fantastic job of showing the world who Roberto Clemente was and what he did to make the number 21 famous. While this book is an account of Clemente’s life you don’t have to be a fan of baseball to appreciate it. Clemente was a great man who happened to play baseball very well and used that platform to help others. Wilfred takes us on a journey that begins in Clemente’s home in Carolina, Puerto Rico. Clemente’s family didn’t have much but he did have a strong bond with his parents and his siblings. His family played a very integral role in the man Clemente would become.
Santiago’s art and his choice in colors are perfect. He doesn’t use bright colors choosing instead a darker palette. They convey the hard working nature of the Clemente family and it is also appropriate when the book shifts over to Pittsburgh. The Steel City is known for its working class and Santiago displays that very well in the panels of the book. The art of the book also does a great job of setting the tone for the 200 page book.
Clemente’s struggles are central to his story. Santiago weaves this story as Clemente undertakings move to Pittsburgh and his time as an outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was in Pittsburgh where Clemente’s talents came to the forefront for the world to see. What also came through was the discrimination that was commonplace during that time. Clemente not only faced issues because of his skin color but he had the added obstacle of not speaking English.
Santiago does a great job of telling Clemente’s story, his struggles, and his triumphs without being sermonizing. Make no mistake about it the star is Clemente the man and Santiago highlights that. He doesn’t inundate the readers with baseball statistics and at the same time displays the role baseball played in his life. Clemente lived his life to help others. His accomplishments are more than numbers on the back of a baseball card and Santiago honors that.
Clemente died as he lived, serving others. Wilfred Santiago does a superb job of writing and illustrating Clemente’s tragic last moments. Santiago makes this book accessible to everyone who wants to learn about a man who fought to make it to the big leagues and did everything he could to help those less fortunate. Clemente is an inspiration to millions of people and Santiago’s graphic novel is a great tribute.