on 1 August 2009
This is a great series, which at the moment has three parts. It's part of the ':01' , or 'first second' range of graphic novels which i have found to be standardly of high quality reading.
There exists, beyond the Frontier of the Old West, an island. Here, if you find the island at all, you will find a Lost Colony, a ragtag huddle of escapees and frontiersmen who have found solace on it's curious soil, should they prove no threat to the place...
Full of strange and oddball fellows, some of whom don't get along at all, we have 'civilisation' coming head-to-head with the 'Wilderness' and a mythology of it's own come to life. What will become of them?
The artwork is pretty distinctive and really makes the flavor of the graphic novels stand out with it's bold character lines and sweeps of landscaping colour. It's an enjoyable style, sometimes subtle somehow, othertimes in your face, but only appropriately, with cartoonish figures living down to earth existances (if with a touch of magic or madness). It's what caught my eye in the first place.
By the time of the third installment the curious nature of the island has been revealed somewhat and how the folk living on the island are affected by it shows through with greater clarity. We have the fresh intrusion of insidious foes, as well as the consequences of the eradication of old ones.
I love anything with a supernatural or fantasical element to it - it makes a story more alive and real than drudgery-in-mud type plots - and the Lost Colony has it for sure. It also has political blood and social comentary such as slavery and racism attitudes, from both sides of the fence, as in, how either side reacts to each other (and this differently from person to person which shows the individuality of each of the charcaters in the Colony's world) - but it's not preachy, it's more the people themselves coming together and reacting or acting as they would do given their ideals and motives, etc.
I like the idea of cartoonish graphics telling a 'serious' story (as in, not part of the 'funnies' genre), something manga, particularly, does well at, especially given the penchant for extreme emotional outbursts, and here achieved exceptionally well.
It's a must read for anyone who enjoys graphic novels.
As I read this odd first volume in a projected ten-book series, there was a vague sense of familiarity I couldn't quite identify. The title is clearly an allusion to the real-life "lost colony" of Roanoke Island (circa 1650), and the book itself appears to be set in an isolated village about two centuries later -- a quasi-1850ish America. But there was something about the bright colors, setting, and cast of characters that rang some little bell in the back of my head. Finally, after reading an interview with the author, it all made sense -- I had grown up reading the Asterix series, and so had he. The isolated village, strange characters, and vivid coloring all find their influences in the Asterix series.
With that out of the way, it has to be said that the storyline is a little disorienting. A stranger arrives in town, having crossed over on the small ferry which links the island village to the mainland. His task is apparently to advertise (via posters) an impending slave auction in the nearby city of Port Succor. The young daughter of the town's banker, Birdy Snodgrass, is keen to buy a slave to take over her household chores. Her father, meanwhile, waxes on about various vague financial "shenanigans" whose relevance to the plot is rather unclear. However, the town's Chinese-Mexican pharmacist/alchemist, Dr. Pepe Wong, is keen to erase the stranger's mind so that the village's existence remains unknown. Unfortunately, he entrusts this task to his huge Frankenstein-like helper, a strongman who has a talent for messing up simple tasks (these two characters are reminiscent of Getafix and Obelix from the Asterix series). Eventually Birdy makes it to Port Succor and has various adventures, culminating in her acquisition of a storytelling slave boy. Meanwhile, Dr. Wong brews up various tinctures and potions in order to try and guide events. Meanwhile, the village's few free black people and Indians band together to chase off the invasion of slave-catchers they believe is impending. And then there's Rex Carter, the local plantation owner, whose invented some kind of clockwork robot so that he "can be free of his slaves." All of this culminates in a kind of zany pitched battle which more or less restores the balance.
The artwork is very striking and distinctive. Klein creates his work in Photoshop, which leads to beautifully crisp lines and a highly controlled palate. His style is to build layers of color against which his dense black lines pop. It's very pop-arty and a lot of fun to examine. The paneling is strictly rectangular, but has enough variation in sizing and placement from spread to spread to give it a lively feel. Klein's dialogue freely mixes period with contemporary language, which makes what might have been a stiff semi-historical tale much more accessible. There is a clear running theme concerning slavery and race, as well as less explicit treatments of capitalism, technology, and the development of America. It's not particularly clear what Klein means by it all, but it's certainly interesting and distinctive enough for me to look forward to the next installment.