Hellraisers: A Graphic Biography, By Robert Sellers and JAKe

Soused and out in Paris and Corsica
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The Independent Culture

It's a match made in Hollywood heaven: Robert Sellers – who has biographised everyone from Sting to Tom Cruise – has retooled his 2008 book Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Burton, Harris, O'Toole and Reed, with the animating assistance of the artist JAKe.

As a longtime graphic designer for Lucasfilm, JAKe is steeped in movie-making insight of his own: his Star Wars and Indiana Jones character portraits are globally familiar.

While the details of the four actors' lives are widely known – the boozing, the benders, the blackouts, the babes – this graphic depiction of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and Oliver Reed offers a fresh take on their shenanigans. The approach borrows from A Christmas Carol, as a drinker named Martin is visited by the actors, one by one. "I'll tell you who I am," says apparition number one, setting the scene with a familiar soundbite: "I'm Richard Burton and God put me on this earth to raise sheer hell."

Hellraisers comes to expressive life under JAKe's pen: while adhering to Sellers' text, he makes his own mark, from spot-on portraits-cum-caricatures and striking images, to downright cartoonish depictions when things take distinctly silly turns. (For example: Burton and Elizabeth Taylor's second marriage in Botswana.)

Thus, in Burton's grim Pontrhydyfen childhood, skulls and coffins glow spookily in Welsh mines. And when Burton reflects on his inability to appreciate his lavish lifestyle with Taylor ("Accompanying us on our world cruises would be a retinue of yapping, incontinent dogs ... It was the most expensive bloody floating dog kennel in the world") JAKe draws a familiar-yet-different board game named Monotony. Harris chases a priest from his bedside with a Tom-and-Jerry outcome, and Harry Potter's Knight bus and Diagon Alley pop up in a most surreal fashion; O'Toole swaggers into the scene on a camel; and the illustrator has cheeky fun depicting Reed as ringmaster of his own mad, bad circus.

Hellraisers is an enjoyable, crazy ride though the mint decades of British and American stage and screen. Plenty of familiar faces popping up – Bogie and Bacall, Russell Crowe, Peter Sellers, Marlon Brando, Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Albert Finney, Lenny Bruce, Omar Sharif and both Audrey and Katharine Hepburn – all brought to unerring life by the telling shape of eyebrows, noses or lips.

Overall, though, Martin gets a bit of a mixed message; one of excessive drinking but few regrets: "Ah Jesus," as O'Toole says to Harris, "but I did enjoy the days when one went for a beer at one's local in Paris and woke up in Corsica."