On May 30, 1975, the world woke up to the tragic loss: the irreplaceable Steve Prefontaine who had dazzled audience and predecessors alike through his brilliant track record had been killed in an untimely car crash at 24. Forty years later, his short, explosive life is celebrated once more through The Art of Running this May, a graphic novel commemorating the legendary American distance runner and his sport.
Quite the celebrity of the ’70s, Prefontaine’s life contains plenty of drama that makes a book memorable. It takes a very personal and engaging look into the athlete’s Bay Area life, his early scant years at Marshfield, and time at the University in Oregon right up to his Munich tour during the 1972 Olympics. For an entire generation of people who followed his brilliant but brief career through the 60s and 70s, the story serves as a reaffirmation of the myth that made Prefontaine less of an athlete and more of an everyday hero.
“Steve Prefontaine is my running hero,” says Matt Crehan, the creator of the book in an interview with Runner’s World. “He was a front runner and looked at racing as a work of art.” The combination works smoothly as Crehan himself has roots that go into distance running; his mother was part of the 1988 Olympic Marathon British team. His previous work includes the popular British comic character Alf Tupper: The Tough of the Track in Athletic Weekly, apart from other short comics and anthologies. Prefontaine is his first published graphic novel; the story has been scripted by Crehan and his wife Megan, while the captivating dramatic artwork is by Indonesisan artist Sigit Nugroho, who despite his unfamiliarity with the sport captures the intensity of racing with brilliance. Several guest artists have also come on board and rendered inimitable versions of Prefontaine for inside chapter covers—their different styles perfectly capturing the runner’s many shades.
“I have tried to show Prefontaine as the person he was rather than the slightly ‘Hollywoodized’ version of the films,” says the author. Previously, there have been two films made on the lengendary distance runner—Prefontaine in 1997 and Without Limits, in 1998. Crehan published the novel through a Kickstarter campaign started in 2013, that raised £5,261and had 47 backers to help pay off the artwork and printing costs of the 128-page, richly illustrated novel.
Prefontaine was a natural rockstar; the right amount of working class and anti-authority cult figure that held a particular appeal among the freedom-spouting new generation of the times, a legacy only heightened by his untimely death at 24. The Art of Running gives newer generations much after his time a vivid chance to relive the magic that made him one of the most unforgettable heroes of the age.
Images courtesy: Matt Crehan