Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mezolith by Ben Haggarty and Adam Brockbank

The world of MeZolith awaits.

10,000 years ago, the Kansa tribe live on the western shores of the North Sea Basin, where danger is never far away. Each season brings new adventure, each hunt has its risks, and each grim encounter with the neighbouring tribe is fraught with threats. Poika, a boy on the verge of manhood, must play his part and trust the strength and wisdom of his elders. This is a tale of beasts and beauty, man, magic and . . . horror. 

I have dragged my feet badly about reviewing this excellent book purely because I can't put into words how much I love it.  But I was spurred to action because of meeting the illustrator very briefly at Thoughtbubble in Leeds this weekend past.  I caught poor Mr. Brockbank at a bad time, as he was quickly eating a sarnie as the crowds around him surged and swayed.  I gushed at him, confessing my utter love for the story and the artwork.  I think I may have scared him.  I felt a bit bad about it and thought that the best way to make up for my lunatic behaviour is to review it on MFB. 

Mezolith is one of the books from DFC - the David Fickling Comics books.  It is also, by far, my most favourite of all of them that I've received to review.  

Ben Haggarty, the author is an incredible storyteller.  The man should be feted and treasured. And then sent to my house to live in the cupboard under the stairs so he can tell me stories.  I digress.  

MeZolith tells the story of Poika, a young boy who is a bit of a dreamer, and who is a bit of a storyteller himself.  One day, as he is strolling through the forest, he comes across a bison grazing quietly by itself in a clearing.  He runs to tell his father and the rest of his clan and initially they make fun of him, but then realise he's telling the truth.  They set out to hunt the animal and warn Poika to stay behind.  Of course, our dreamer would not have that, so he runs off after them.  There is an incident and Poika is badly hurt and taken home where he lies in a deep fever.  An old shaman / medicine woman arrives and offers her help. As Poika balances on the edge of fever dreams and reality, she tells him the story of a three brothers who go hunting and then one day, they come across an abandoned baby. The youngest brother, a boy maybe a bit older than Poika takes the child and cares for it, but soon it is revealed that the child is not what it seems, but a bloodthirsty monster bent on devouring the humans who had taken him in.  The youngest brother immediately takes action and saves the day.  Poika's fever breaks shortly after this and we realise the medicine woman's magics and story helped him turn the corner and he survives the ordeal the gods set before him. 

As you read further you find yourself truly immersed in this ancient landscape that is so familiar yet so alien.  It is the artist, Adam Brockbank, who is to thank for these set pieces that draws the reader in.  It is rare to find an artist and writer who just sync so well together.  Brockbank's palette makes use of matte colours that are predominantly earth colours, to reflect the deep relationship Poika's tribe has with nature around them.  It is when his palette changes slightly to accommodate Haggarty's story that you realise how deeply visual this graphic novel is.  The images stayed with me for far longer than I expected and some of the frames are perfect enough to put in a frame for display. 

MeZolith consists of interlocking stories or chapters rather, that introduce us to various members of Poika's small tribe and their day to day lives.  And each chapter can be seen as life-lesson for Poika and to be honest, not all of them are pleasant. My favourite however has to be the story of the Swan Bride.  It is a retelling of a very very old fairy tale about the young man who falls in love with a beautiful young woman who also happens to be a swan.  The story is so deeply archetypal and touching, so that every time I open the book, I am lost in that specific chapter and I cry a little at its sheer magic. 

I cannot recommend MeZolith highly enough - even if you have never read a graphic novel before in your life, this book will change your opinion.  It is deeply evocative and will make a wonderful gift for someone who is perhaps a reluctant reader.  The art and the words are married incredibly well and even if reading wasn't your favourite thing in the world, the pictures are strong enough to be taken on their own merit to tell the story. 

It is rare for me to slaver at the mouth about a graphic novel but this one is remarkable. It is one of my most treasured books and lives with all my other books on fairy tales and fairy tale retellings.  No one else is allowed to touch, and if they do, it is with permission only and with very clean hands.  If you have the opportunity to look at it in a local bookshop, do so.  Find the chapter with the Swan Bride and read it.  And then come and tell me you couldn't resist buying it. 

I am incredibly grateful to David Fickling for sending me this to review.  I am also deeply apologetic to Adam Brockbank for slavering at the mouth when I spoke to him, but I do think I managed to handsell a copy to that young man who stood listening to me gushing. 


Carmen Wing said...

So... you want to lock him in a cupboard after felting him and oly let him out to read you stories? Um... no, no can't think why you would have scared him at all ;)

Love the sound of this, going to add it to my wishlist right now, your review in itself is gorgeous.

Unknown said...

I want to read this! Also, I was at the Leeds Thought Bubble too, how awesome is that! I painted a Momiji doll and was terrified by the sheer amount of people... they need a bigger venue next time. o.o