Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #94: Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi

I've already done my song-and-dance about explorers in my post four years ago about Bertozzi's book Shackleton, so it's best to take that as read here. [1] But Shackleton lived in an age when most of the world had been mapped and organized; he was trying to fill in one of the last few open spaces on the map, to be The Guy who got his name on that effort.

By comparison, Lewis and Clark were just military men sent off by their commander, with orders roughly equivalent to "check out what's over that hill there." It turned out "that hill there" was the Rocky Mountains, but there were a lot more empty places on maps a hundred years earlier. Lewis and Clark led a team through one of those big empty places, and helped fill it in.

(Well, fill it in for white people on the East coast of North America. The people already in those lands had a decent sense of at least their immediate area.)

But, anyway. Nick Bertozzi told a story about explorers before Shackleton. And this is it: Lewis & Clark, an album-sized graphic novel that I suspect was aimed at least partly at a school audience. If I still worked at a publishing company that sold into the trade -- which I didn't, for a good year or so even before I left Wiley in 2015 -- I could have looked up how it sold, and maybe gotten a sense if that strategy was successful. But, instead, I can come to Lewis & Clark as just another reader.

Bertozzi tells this story in episodes, a page or three at a time. He has the whole 1803-1806 expedition to cover (plus a little before and afterward), and only 137 pages to fit thousands of miles of wandering and many many eventful days into, so that's not surprising. (If there are any Lewis and Clark scholars out there, I can't guarantee your favorite moment from the expedition is dramatized in this book.) He somewhat alternates between single pages and double-page spreads, which is occasionally confusing -- the reader isn't always sure whether to read straight across the top tier, or continue down the left page. That does make for some impressive vistas, though -- Lewis & Clark takes advantage of its larger size, which can make up for the black and white art. [2]

I get the sense Bertozzi's aim here was to faithfully chronicle the high points of a historically important event, and not provide commentary or his own opinions. If so, he did a great job: Lewis & Clark is the kind of comic that feels like a camera-eye, a view into a world long gone. His art is bold and strongly story-telling, moving the action forward. This is, inevitably, a very episodic book, but it's an engrossing one, and the personalities of the main characters come through even told in episodes.

[1] Shackleton was a 2014 book I read when it was new; this is a 2011 book it took me seven years to get to. I have no compelling reason for why it happened that way, and must throw myself upon the mercy of the court.

[2] I'm fine with b&w myself -- I got into comics in the '80s, when b&w was hip and trendy -- but, for a lot of people, it's means the work is unfinished.

No comments:

Post a Comment