27 June, 2011
As I've talked about on the podcast, having a job has really spun me out into a region of space with which I have little familiarity. It must be a bit like having cataracts removed, it's all new colors and shapes and really has no bearing on my former semi-ascetic existence. It's weird to be able to buy things. Most of what I've spent my money on-- besides booze and hipster clothes-- is books and comics (or "comic books" as I call them).*
I'm a better nerd than I am a son. The Saturday before Mother's Day I bought a hundred and fifty dollars worth of comic books (but on sale for only a hundred bucks). I then bought fifty dollars worth of flowers and roses for my mom and for my sisters. This also makes me a better consumer than a Marxist. There's worse things to not be, I suppose.
I bought a large stack of books over the past couple of weeks (in addition to an untold amount of liquor, tchockies, and, finally, terminally, ultimately, a massive HD TV). My shelf space is in severe danger of having to expand to the floor. One of the books (and, ideally, I'll get around to both reviewing and reading all of the books and things I've bought, making them work for me to some extent), is Chris Schweizer's Crogan's March.
Crogan's March hits a certain spot for me and as I was telling the store clerk in the line on Free Comic Book Day (if that isn't a tell for how long it's taken me to start, write, and finish this entry, then I have no tell), anything with breech loaded weaponry, I'm game for. He responded with saying that he knew what I meant and he just got into the Sharpe's series of films, which, I guess, meant that he didn't know what I meant, but I wasn't a big enough asshole to bring this up especially considering that the line was maybe fifty people long and this guy probably had better things to worry about than proper firearm nomenclature.
He was right in his own way about this book, though. It's an old school adventure tale, a great imperial adventure that simply isn't made any more. It's the kind of a story I love. It's The Man Who Would be King** is one such story, the Sharpe's series definitely fit into that mold, and Crogan's March can soundly claim to be a relative of those two sets of stories.
I remember finding out about this book at least a year or two ago (maybe back before it was even published). I think I found it while looking up the French Foreign Legion or French army uniforms on Google Image Search and through one way or another, I wound up on Schweizer's website. I'm glad I found it, because, as a result I ended up reading a delightful little war book (but don't take my word for it!)
(Here's a beautifully rendered image of a North African city.)
Crogan's March is a compact story about Imperial France's unfortunate colonial experiment in Northern Africa. While it does wind through the kind of predictable steps that an adventure story about North Africa almost has to (indifference and confusion about the mission, the hard-as-nails-sergeant-with-a-heart-of-gold, the incompetent commander, racism, sand, etc etc etc), it transcends what could have been a by the numbers plot by demonstarting that Mr. Schweizer put quite a lot of work into the research. What's even better than demonstrating that this book had a lengthy incubation is that he manages to fit these details into the story and it doesn't feel like an information dump. These tidbits about North Africa, goums, or the hunting habits of Berber sheikhs feel like they're relevant to the plot and not just garnish on a boring story. In some cases they are the plot itself.
Maybe he just made it all up, I don't know. If he did make it all up off the top of his head, then I guess that would also be telling of his talent as a writer.
Seeing this sort of thing encourages me because it deals with a lot of the same things I'm working on in my comic (ever so slowly). If it works there, I imagine it can work here.
The art is quite well done, as well, and like the writing it doesn't seem labored or crammed into the book. It has this kind of loose cartoony style and it fits perfectly into the story despite seemingly like it might be at odds with the contents (colonial warfare) and the tone (DOOM). While it isn't realistic by any means, it is representational enough of the time and the characters to give weight to the book where a lesser artist wouldn't be able to do so. The uniforms seem to be perfectly of the period and the characters in them deliver this clever and telling shorthand to the writer like good cartoons should. The mountains and deserts of Africa look great and, again, it seems like this book is in Africa and not just an adventure book that says it's in Africa.
Again, this is kind of a thing encouraging to me, because my art is probably more like a Schweizer than an artist that might seem like a more obvious fit (I mean, not just in terms of style, but in terms of talent-- not to say that Schweizer isn't a talented man, I just-- aw, jeese, I'm going to stop digging here). All I mean is that if this man can get away with putting together a fun book about a serious subject, then there's a chance I can get away with it, as well. That's all I mean.
Even if you aren't an aspiring historical war comic creator or in love with a certain bizarre and brief period of time, there's plenty to like with Crogan's March, because, its a well told story and more than the collection of eccentricities. As a final note, just about any one at any age level can read this book and at only fifteen bucks (with a hardback cover, no less), I can't think of a good reason not to-- well, maybe severe adherence to Marxism, but even that can bend for something as good as this, right?
*I probably don't have to, but I feel that I should apologize. I haven't finished a review in what feels like years. The reality is that it's probably less than a month that I sat down and acted like I had any right to review something, which is slightly more depressing. I need to get my shit together.
**I love The Man Who Would Be King, if you didn't know.