Comics

Frank Lee: After Alcatraz (David Hasteda) – Graphic Novel Review

There are so many wonderful, amazing stories that exist in the world based on real events: parts of history that are rarely learnt about because they don’t affect the larger fabric of society, yet contain some of the most unbelievable events around. Sometimes these stories grab hold of people, they capture their imaginations and demand more answers. People want to know what happens next, what the solution to the mysteries are, and how events would continue on. And when this happens to writers they can often be inspired to tell their own stories, their own ‘what if’ accounts of these very real, very amazing tales. Frank Lee: After Alcatraz is one of these stories.

This new Hard Case Crime title from Titan Comics begins by giving readers the very real story of the only people ever to escape from the world famous Alcatraz prison. On the night of June 11th, 1962, three men, John Anglin, Clarence Anglin, and Frank Lee Morris, performed a daring escape from the island prison. Fashioning heads from papier-mâché, they set up decoys in their cells, and escaped into the tunnel system behind the walls through holes they’d spent months digging out behind vent covers. Escaping onto the roof of the prison, where they’d stashed their homemade oars, they descended to the shore and boarded a raft they’d constructed out of old jackets, and escaped the island.

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In real life no record of them was ever found after their escape. Some believe that the three of them drowned in the bay, whilst others believe that they made good on their escape. Small pieces of evidence have been brought forward over the years that suggest they did survive their trip across the water, but no real answer has ever been found. And this is the story that captured the imagination of writer David Hasteda. This book focuses on Frank Lee Morris, and posits a possible series of events that happened to him after escaping Alcatraz.

In Frank Lee: After Alcatraz we follow the newly escaped Frank as he leaves the Anglin brothers behind and begins to make his escape through Muir Woods. Followed by search parties, and chased by tracker dogs, an injured Frank takes shelter in an old building in the small town of Bolinas. Frank attempts to stitch up the gash in his arm, but falls unconscious. When he comes to it’s been a few days, and he’s in the home of Francisco and Pam Leonetti, who have been taking care of him.

Francisco talks to Frank about why he was in Alcatraz, why a non-violent thief would wind up in the worst prison in the country, and sees that despite his past Frank isn’t a bad man. He offers Frank the opportunity to stay with them for a short while, at least until the cops stop looking for him. But as that short while becomes a long while Frank begins to make a life for himself in Bolinas, and with the Leonettis. The Leonettis tell everyone that Frank is their nephew, and he begins to become a son to the couple, who lost their own son years before. This begins a tale of how Frank starts to build a new life for himself, a new family, and the events that begin to unfold that put that new life at risk.

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Frank Lee: After Alcatraz ended up being a rather delightful drama story about a man with a troubled past learning to start afresh. Despite being part of the Hard Case Crime label there’s very little crime that really happens in this book. I know that pretending to be someone you’re not to hide out from the authorities because you escaped from the most secure prison in the country is technically a crime, but other than that this is just a story about a man building a life for himself. Frank isn’t a bad person. He broke a few laws but he’s not a violent criminal, and this is one of those stories that has a more nuanced take on crime and criminals than just ‘breaking the law makes you a bad person’.

Frank proved to be an interesting man to follow. He’s spent so much of his life in prison and breaking out of prison that he really doesn’t know what to do with himself now that he’s out. He feels constantly on edge, waiting to be caught and dragged back to Alcatraz, because that’s all he’s ever really known. We get to see Frank learning to live a normal life, to settle down and build a home for himself, and it’s a really lovely journey.

He’s helped in doing this by the Leonettis, two of my favourite characters in the book. Older than Frank, Francisco and Pam see their son in the escaped prisoner. That’s even a big point of disagreement between the couple at first, and why Pam begins not wanting to help Frank out, because Francisco gives Frank their dead son’s clothes to wear. But as time moves on we see Pam warm to Frank, even ending up at the point where she’s so protective of him that she begins to fear he might suffer a similar fate to her own son. The Leonettis are a wonderfully warm and caring couple, and they come to see Frank as their own son. They don’t care that he used to be a criminal, they don’t care about his past other than wanting to protect him from it, and it’s their kindness and compassion that turns his life around. I came to care for the Leonettis pretty quickly, and loved the small family unit that they formed with Frank.

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The art on the book is provided by Ludovic Chesnot, who has a look and style that feels very grounded at times, but also has a bit of flair to it that makes certain parts of the book feel a bit unnatural and stylised. I think this is perhaps a perfect approach to a story that is fictional, but grounded in reality. The art seems to reflect the fact that the events of the book aren’t real, that they are an embellishment by the author, yet could have happened. I liked the character designs, how instantly recognisable and unique everyone looked, as it helped to keep everything clear and simple and helped to prevent the story from getting muddled.

Frank Lee: After Alcatraz is an entertaining read, a fictional tale based on real events that tells a very human story with a lot of heart. I found a lot in this book to enjoy, and was genuinely disappointed when it was done as I’d have loved to have spent longer with these people and their lives.

Frank Lee: After Alcatraz is out on 12th July from Titan Comics.

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