3.07.2011

Graphic Novel of the Month

Lewis & Clark (First Second): As creator Nick Bertozzi mentions in his brief introduction, this iteration of the Lewis & Clark story isn’t intended to supplant any canonical or existing historical accounts. This telling of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s transcontinental voyage to discover a water route to the Pacific Ocean does highlight the requisite benchmarks of their travels, but also gives a bit of a speculative behind-the-scenes accounting of the interesting motivations, hidden conversations, and entertaining anecdotes that fueled the voyage, based in part on Lewis’ diary of letters. It’s a rare work that can both educate and entertain, but the book does so, and it’s the type of text that I could see easily engaging middle school or high school classrooms for its sheer accessibility. It’s got a sense of humor and an open, airy quality to the art that invites endlessly, but it never fails to illustrate the many historically at-odds groups with an interest in the northwest territory, from the fledgling Americans, to the British, Spanish, French, and indigenous people of the early 1800’s. Artistically, Bertozzi isn’t content resting on simple straightforward presentation and takes several opportunities to push his craft. There are multiple variations of the panel designs, my favorite being how he manages the passage of time with these low-slung elongated panels. They provide a very tactile sense of the long arduous journey that was undertaken. Another example of inventive “comics-making” that stood out for me were the small but effective techniques Bertozzi would casually include, such as when the characters are using a form of sign language, and there’s an actual hand built into the design of the caption box to signify that it’s visual, not auditory, communication being reflected. Lewis was a fairly celebrated army officer, while Clark was more of an outdoorsman, yet their differing personalities joined for this meaningful expedition of discovery, the beginning of which actually pre-dated President Jefferson’s forward-thinking Louisiana Purchase. The tale is careful to depict impending paranoia, on the part of Lewis, and setbacks galore for the so-called Corps of Discovery. It’s one of many startling acts involved in the building of a nation. I appreciate Bertozzi’s effort to show occasionally duplicitous dealings, and also include what happened after the voyage and not gloss over the initial triumph. Despite their many accomplishments, the Lewis family was plagued by mental illness and we see the paranoid delusions of Lewis accurately grow toward suicidal tendencies in the wake of the voyage. The inclusion of this short epilogue showing the turns their lives took after the more popular elements of the story made the entire project gain some additional credibility with me. Lewis & Clark chronicles a rich piece of history and also functions brightly as a fulfilling slice of entertainment. Grade A.

1 Comments:

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

I can't wait to pick this up. :)

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics
www.ElephantEater.com

 

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