The Hunting Accident is a richly rewarding, fascinating account of a story so improbable in its intricacies and coincidences that it could only be true.
Some stories simply seem too incredible to be true, stretching the bounds of plausibility and coming across as little more than the product of an overactive imagination. Yet fact can often be far more compelling than any fiction, regardless of how fantastical it might seem. Such is the case with The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry, a graphic novel by David L. Carlson and Landis Blair, that encompasses a wide range of topics: the lies we tell each other to save face; the “crime of the century;” Dante’s Inferno (in braille and shadow puppet form); life behind bars; the often tenuous post-divorce relationships between fathers and sons; and the cyclical nature of history.
Opening with the sequence that lends the narrative its title, Blair’s thick, dark cross-hatched style lends the visuals an air of claustrophobia. It’s an unsettling aesthetic decision that immediately throws the reader into a disorienting sense of uncertainty, foreshadowing the events to come. Initially told from the perspective of Charlie Rizzo, a young man with a blind father, the latter of whom has long maintained that his blindness was the result of a childhood hunting accident resulting from a shotgun blast to the face in the same general area where the body of Bobby Franks was dumped following his brutal murder at the hands of the infamous Leopold and Loeb.
Forced to live with his father in Chicago following the death of his mother in California—the pair having divorced years prior for reasons largely unknown to Charlie—he finds himself growing up in a world of near darkness due to his father’s affliction. As he grows, he learns to adapt to the sparse furnishings and lack of décor within the tiny apartment they share, embarking on extracurricular activities that his father can appreciate like tap dancing and the cello and helping to edit his father’s poetic ramblings. But as he enters his difficult teenage years and finds himself falling in with a bad neighborhood crowd, Charlie begins rebelling, quitting tap dancing and refusing to play cello (at which point his father smashes the instrument in a fit of rage).
With his license and new car purchased with his inheritance from his mother in hand, Charlie’s lapse in judgment lands him in legal trouble following his participation as the driver in a breaking-and-entering case. When the police come to collect Charlie, his father sits him down and finally begins laying out the long, unspoken truth regarding how he lost his eyesight, where he ended up and why his wife left. Rather than the story Charlie had been told all his life, the real story behind Matt Rizzo’s loss of sight involved a series of events eerily similar to those happening to Charlie.
Having fallen in with a bad crowd, Matt finds himself on the wrong end of a shotgun during a convenience store robbery. Lacking sight and finding himself in prison, Matt’s entire world is turned upside down, his frustration levels and loss of desire to live increasing by the day. It is here that he finds himself placed in a cell with another inmate who, it is hoped, will help him learn how to adapt somewhat to his new life in both his physical and mental prison. By a strange twist of fate, this fellow inmate turns out to be Nathan Leopold, he of the infamous Crime of the Century murder.
From there, Leopold and Rizzo embark on the rocky road to an unlikely friendship that leads to a sense of mutual contentment as both learn braille, put on a production of Inferno that their fellow inmates can grasp, and ultimately aid in Rizzo’s mental rehabilitation. Inferno proves the perfect metaphor for his journey from suicidal fatalist to optimistic intellectual. Strewn throughout is actual text from Matt’s writings, sharing a tale of redemption and rebirth, one which in turn mirrors the lives of both Rizzos as they turn their respective lives around and establish a deep bond. In all, The Hunting Accident is a richly rewarding, fascinating account of a story so improbable in its intricacies and coincidences that it could only be true.