If the phrase “graphic novel” makes you think of elves, anime characters, and superheroes, Sean Fitzgibbon wants to encourage you to adjust your expectations. Fayetteville artist and recent recipient of the Artists 360 program, Fitzgibbon created a just-released “true crime” graphic novel — and it’s a story familiar to anyone who’s made more than a cursory visit to Eureka Springs.
Completed in 1886 at a cost of $294,000, the Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, situated on 27 acres at the north end of West Mountain – “a majestic location overlooking the valley” – was considered “the resort hotel the most luxurious in America”. www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/jul/26/what-follows-is-true-sean-fitzgibbon-debuts/ “With large, airy, comfortably furnished rooms, The Crescent Hotel offers visiting vacationers unrivaled opulence in terms of convenience and service,” wrote the Eureka Springs Times Echo on May 20, 1886.
“Rarely has such a formidable construction undertaking been accomplished with such efficiency,” the Times Echo continued. “The magnificent structure has then been furnished in the most exquisite manner. It is lit by Edison lamps, furnished with electric bells, steam heated and open grilles, has a hydraulic lift and is truly a showcase of amenities of today.”
It was in the 1930s that the history of the Crescent Hotel took the dark turn that fascinated Fitzgibbon. A “former vaudeville magician, turned inventor, turned millionaire businessman, turned populist radio host, turned cancer doctor without a day of medical training in his life,” Norman G. Baker, who called himself a “doctor” , lured the dying to the Baker Hospital located at the hotel, promising them that he could treat them in his “Castle in the Air”. He did not do it.
“What made Norman Baker’s cancer cure charade so despicable was the human cost of his fraud,” the Crescent Hotel website explains in its account of the story. “Hundreds of people who could have lived if they had received legitimate medical care died because they trusted in his healing.”
Fitzgibbon, who moved to Fayetteville from Missouri in 2003 to pursue an MFA at the University of Arkansas, is now an assistant professor of art at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville and a nationally recognized artist whose work includes graphic novels. “I have a passion for visual storytelling,” he says, focused on “real and unusual places and events. This book will appeal to readers of non-fiction, medical malpractice, ghost stories, mystery and literary horror”.
After more than a decade of work and funded by a month-long Kickstarter campaign in 2021, “What Follows Is True: Crescent Hotel,” Fitzgibbon’s fully painted, 240-page non-fiction graphic novel, will debut on Friday at a launch party from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the McCoy Gallery of the Community Creative Center in Fayetteville. Part of “The Great Beyond: Comic Art in the Ozarks,” the exhibit, open through August 6, also features Chad Maupin, JL Morris, John Lucas, and Gustav Carlson. Books will be on sale at the meeting or can be ordered at seanfitzgibbonart.com.
Fitzgibbon’s fascination with the Crescent Hotel clearly dates back to family visits to Eureka Springs as a child, he says.
“I have always been intrigued by its charming Queen Anne dwellings perched on limestone cliffs, steep rises and winding roads that do not intersect. I just made this up. However, the most fascinating and Mysterious to me has always been the old Crescent Hotel. With its bizarre, dark and varied history. Years later I stayed at the hotel and did the ghost tour. What stuck with me, it’s the story of the fraudulent doctor who turned the hotel into a freak hospital. Elements of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ intrigued me deeply. Who was he and how such a thing could it have happened? This is my best interpretation of this particular person, place and time.”
After writing and illustrating “DomestiCATed: Paths Once Crossed,”https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2022/jul/26/what-follows-is-true-sean-fitzgibbon-debuts/”a graphic novel composed of three dark short stories that follow a black cat as it ventures into the nefarious underworld of domestic human existence,” and a short story for Cemetery Dance Magazine’s Grave Tales titled “Ubiquity of Strangers,” Fitzgibbon didn’t not hesitate to choose the graphic novel format to tell the story of the Crescent hotel.
“I’m a visual person and I think in terms of images. In college I studied both studio art and graphic design, and I’ve always had a love for literature and film. I think graphic novels are a wonderful way to communicate stories using techniques derived from all of the above.
“I’ve also learned a lot from watching documentary films. Documentary filmmaking has evolved over the years without clear boundaries using an array of cinematic techniques and media, and I love bringing that experimental, collage-like approach to my non-fiction. graphic storytelling.”
Graphic novels, says Fitzgibbon, are for everyone.
“Artists and writers of all disciplines, cultures and ages now see the medium as a way to tell stories of any genre and using virtually any method and bringing new and exciting work to the table. “
Book Launch: Crescent Hotel
- When: 5-8 p.m. Friday
- Where: McCoy Gallery at the Community Creative Center in Fayetteville
- Admission: Free; the books will be on sale
- Information: seanfitzgibbonart.com
- Prime: Works by Chad Maupin, JL Morris, John Lucas and Gustav Carlson will also be featured at the book launch.