Celebrate the Apollo’s 85th anniversary with the newly released graphic novel “Showtime at the Apollo: The Story of Harlem’s World Famous Theater,” an adaptation of Ted Fox’s 1983 book of the same name. Illustrated by James Otis Smith, the novel shares the intricate history of the theater and its esteemed performers that have graced the stage.
Within the 240 pages of the graphic novel, Fox modified his initial book into three acts, starting with the years before the Apollo held its first performance. The first chapters spotlight the age of the Harlem Renaissance and popular nightclubs, and the overall advancement of the city as an attractive entertainment destination. In later chapters, the graphic novel covers some of the Apollo’s most famous bands, dancers, and comedians, and important business changes that occurred following the arrival of records and rock. In closing, the novel details the hard times that the theater faced in the late 70s, and how it was eventually taken over by new management in the early 80s.
The artwork that fills the pages features some of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces painted in black, white, and various hues of blue. Smith, who draws inspiration from the illustrative style of the 40s and 50s, purposely avoids using too much color in his work. “I find color in comics — especially modern digital coloring — to be distracting,” he tells the New York Times. “I love the somewhat anonymous commercial illustration of the ’40s and ’50s, and the physical limitations of print techniques. I tried to use the blue mainly as a graphic element.”
“This book brings to life the theater’s legendary significance in music history, African American history, and to the culture of New York City,” reads a statement from the book’s publisher. “Countless performers have gotten their break at the Apollo, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Jimi Hendrix, Wilson Pickett, the Miracles, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, [and] Aretha Franklin.”
Order “Showtime at the Apollo,” and dive into an illustrated history of Harlem’s most prestigious theater.