MARCH 29, 1912 by Jordan Shiveley


Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner, folks. It’s always a gratifying critical experience when I put the call out for review books, undaunted creators step up to answer the challenge, and I’m able to discover something as brilliantly executed as this book from Jordan Shiveley of Grimalkin Press, which I might not have otherwise been exposed to. Aesthetically, if you can imagine a bizarre combination of the sparse environments of Sammy Harkham’s Poor Sailor (Gingko Press) and the cold Winter chill of Dan Mazur and Jesse Lonergan’s Cold Wind (Ninth Art Press), you’re somewhere near the March 19, 1912 neighborhood. From a narrative standpoint, if you’re the type of discerning consumer who enjoyed Ben Towle’s based-on-actual-events tale of a lost dirigible in Midnight Sun (Slave Labor) or even the historical bits of the more mainstream Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber Whiteout (Oni Press) series, then you should be all over this book. Well, have I laid down enough references to other great books to sell you yet?

March 29, 1912 is a bit of an interactive mystery. In fact, I had to ask Shiveley to even be certain what the title of the book was. There’s no title or clues on the cover, only a representational assemblage of ice formations rendered in chilly blues and yellows. There are no words in the book, except one lone entry which is the greatest clue. There’s a cover page which reveals the title of the book, simply reading “March 29, 1912” and after some Google assistance, you too can perform some nominal detective work and figure out that it refers to Robert Scott’s Royal Navy expedition of the continent and, more specifically, what turns out to be a supposition of his final moments. 

The art is an exercise in minimalism. With a few strategic lines of ink laid down, Shiveley systematically reveals a world of ice formations, empty food cans, stray weathered tents, skeletal remains, and a single set of footsteps that trail off into the distant horizon. The stripped-down elongated 3-panel pages stand in stark contrast to the emotions that Scott must have felt and to those Shiveley is able to pull out of the reader. The reader pieces together all of these clues forensically, they grow more and more dire with every turn, only to realize that they’ve stumbled into Scott succumbing to the elements in his last few moments of life. Shiveley’s restraint as an artist is incredible. He knows that you actually get more fascination out of what you don’t show, that you get more emotion out of relying less on dialogue’s crutch, to the point of using none.

There’s also no sense of time as a comforting reference point. All we see is a slow transition over a series of 7 powerful pages in deliberate succession that show the snow slowly mounding over Scott’s fading body and swallowing him, with no discernible trace of his existence. In this sequence that so deftly controls pace, Shiveley forces the reader to focus on a single point in space repeatedly, frantically hoping with every turn of the page, with every beat that something will emerge, that something will change, and then dashing that hope as he manipulates the emotion we’ve invested. March 29, 1912 is rendered in all black and white (mostly white actually, with a few stray black lines), but then introduces a dirty gray wash as we pan out to more abstract lights in the sky, the planetary phenomenon emphasizing man’s small place in the universe. Grade A.


At 7:01 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Neat to see all these small press reviews lately. Glad you're getting some takers on your running offer to review. Nice work, man.

Fo' real,
Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks! Books like this are a joy to review, plain and simple.


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