I recently received my second email from Jess Smiley. The first came at the beginning of this month, and included a digital review copy of his 15 page comic: A Map In The Dirt. I read it right away. When I first saw it I wasn't sure what it was, and when I first read it I was no less confused. There were aspects of it that I thought were pretty great, but there were a lot of questions that were generated by it. I have read it again more than once and I have read some other reviews of it, and I have watched a video by the creator that I will talk about later, and I am more comfortable reviewing it now.
The comic is about a group of animals fleeing a common threat. In this regard there is a bit of simplicity and heavy handedness in the use of man as a sort of menacing soulless killer of animals. In this, Man seems to be hunting all of the animals equally. There is a bear and a fox and a bird and a snake and a deer, and the men seem to be doing a sort of Sherman's march to the sea of animal killing. That could be viewed as a major thing, but in this work it is just incidental, and almost excusable.
The style is pretty clean and simple. It is brush and ink on Bristol board and has a sort of 'wilderness' feel to it. The illustration style would be at home in an old scout manual or field guide in my opinion and it is very good, and builds up what is the real strength of this story. There is a real sense of a folk tale in this. It read to me like a sort of Native American myth. I could almost hear Joseph Campbell reciting it. The animals are all a sort of kin to each other. Some, but not all of them are portrayed as human forms wearing animal masks. This made the sense of allegory even stronger to me. The real gem of this story is the theme of the story teller, in the form of the deer that narrates it. The idea is put across that the story teller may die, but the stories are in its body and its body returns to the earth and water and air, and therefore so do the stories.
The ultimate take away from this after my second reading of it is that I really enjoyed it. There are aspects of brilliance in here. It is different enough, and interesting enough, while at the same time feeling timeless and familiar, that I think it works and merits a read.
The other thing of interest to me, and something I think that is worth pointing out, is the use of Kickstarter dot com as a way of raising money to get the story published as a book. The site is an interesting way to go, and allows the creator to set up a place that people can pledge various amounts of money toward the project as sponsors. There is a video there that is pretty funny, and neat. It is like a PBS pledge drive, but it is informative about the project as well as some of the benefits of KickStarter as a way of getting your work out there.
Jess seems to be really putting some effort into getting his project out there, and into getting support and funding for it. DIgital reading copies are definitely a way to go.