It begins in 1949 in New York, where Bobby grows up poor, together with his older sister Joan and a single mother. Joan buys a chess set in a toy store for one dollar – five-year-old Bobby is quickly electrified. Showing exceptional talent, he joins Brooklyn’s chess club. At some point Bobby thinks about chess day and night, becomes a grandmaster at the age of 15 and drops out of school.
The author Julian Voloj (“Basquiat”, “Joe Shuster – father of the superheroes”) and the illustrator Wagner Willian have dealt intensively with Fischer’s life and draw it in “Bobby Fischer – A chess legend between genius and madness” (Knesebeck, 192 pages , 22 euros) episodically – from the young, highly talented and soon to be admired worldwide Bobby to the old ex-world champion eaten away by hate and mistrust.
Apparently, Wagner Willian’s drawings were preceded by an intensive approach to the world of chess. At the back of the book, when introducing the two authors, he admits that he “is a bad chess player”, but this work motivated him to keep trying.
Both sound convincing. On the one hand, the estimated 500 drawings by the Brazilian give an idea of how motivated he may have been in this work. Apparently he was inspired by videos, photos and biographies of fishermen. In many of his drawings, Willian also realistically portrays the facial expressions and physicality of the secondary characters, such as the Soviet world champion Boris Spassky during the 1972 World Championship match in Reykjavik, Iceland.
It was the high point of Fischer’s career in the middle of the Cold War. The US Secretary of State at the time, Henry Kissinger, is also easy to spot; he had helped with a phone call that Fischer, who was already strange at times at times, even competed in this “fight of the century”. (Fischer won in the end with 12.5:8.5 points.)
On the other hand, in some places it becomes apparent that Willian is not used to working in chess contexts: sometimes the board is 90 degrees wrong – the front left square is, from Bobby’s perspective, in some of his drawings not black as it should be should, but knows. But these rare, tolerable mistakes hardly disturb the overall impression.
Overall, the textual content of the New York-based author Julian Voloj has also been well researched. Corresponding to the style of the illustrations, Voloj’s dialogues also seem rather sober and realistic. The choice of this form as well as the extensive renunciation of humor could well have been conscious decisions of the two artists.
Because there was much that was admirable about the ambivalent personality of Bobby Fischer, but little that was heartwarming. Especially not in the last decades of his life, in which he said some disturbing things in complete delusion. For example, he hailed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The graphic biography ends with Fischer’s lonely death in Reykjavik, the site of his greatest triumph. He was 64 years old. “A symbolic age, just like the number of squares on a chessboard,” writes Voloj.