Monday, January 23, 2012

GN Review -- Lewis & Clark / Nick Bertozzi

Just before launching into the narrative of Lewis & Clark, author Nick Bertozzi informs the reader that this tome is intended to convey the flavor of their journey, not necessarily all the particular details.  I myself am not privy to the specifics laid out in scholarly works about their expedition to the Northwest, but I will admit to feeling that Bertozzi did a good job of living up to his word.  I felt like I got a good sampling of the struggles and the overall tone of their journey.

The story starts out shortly before Meriweather Lewis is granted the go-ahead by President Jefferson to find a passage to the Pacific Ocean for the United States.  It highlights the formation of his partnership with William Clark as they gather up men and supplies for the journey, the various obstacles they come up against on the expedition, and the eventual success of their exploration and some of the aftermath that occurs in the years following its conclusion.  The reader is shown that the journey was a difficult one, compounded by supply shortages, personality conflicts, and a difficulty in understanding and interacting with the Native American tribes in the Northwest regions.

I’m guessing Bertozzi used a lot of anecdotes from the journey in his writing, as we see quite a bit of interplay between rank and file members of the expedition as well as the leaders and any Native American tribes they encounter.  It makes for memorable moments, if not straight-up laugh-out-loud ones.  One particular scene that comes to mind plays out between two men hunting for meat.  One keeps getting flustered at the other’s inability to shut up, and derides him as a lousy hunter.  When he’s saved from a bear by a shot from the same man he yelled at, he’s essentially never allowed to live it down.  Moments like this show both the hardships and the humor that arose from being essentially cut off from the trappings of civilization.

There are more than a couple of forays into darker territory also included in this work, particularly Lewis’s occasionally foul and violent temperament.  His temper gets the better of him at a critical time, signalling a likely breaking point for the character, who succumbed to madness and an apparent suicide, years after the expedition.  

Art-wise, I was pretty impressed.  Bertozzi employs a good deal of linework and shading in his sketches, which gives quite a bit of depth to his characters’ ability to express emotions and thoughts.  I found his panel layouts to be confusing at times, as he alternated between one- and two-page layouts, but once you figured it out it was pretty simple to follow.  He draws sprawling landscapes and intimate one-room scenes with equal detail, and keeps things looking appropriate to their time and place within the narrative.

Not being a particular enthusiast when it comes to history, I will say that this was an interesting and well written enough story to keep me reading at a pretty good clip.  I’m guessing that history buffs will enjoy it, as will fans of graphic biographies.  Anyone looking for a decent story in comic book form will undoubtedly find better fare elsewhere, but wouldn’t do badly to read this, either.  Recommended.

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