September 26, 2010

Review of Some New Kind of Slaughter

Here's another book I read recently: a graphic novel about flood mythology:

Some New Kind of SlaughterFrom Publishers Weekly

Powerful and gorgeous, this graphic novel looks at catastrophic floods and the stories we tell about them. In the framing story, the Sumerian king, Ziusudra, guides his people through a massive flood. As the water rises and his wife lies in a coma, he has visions of other floods and flood victims in other lands, such as the biblical Noah a modern ecologist trapped in a Katrina-like hurricane and flood myths from around the world. mpMann's simple, expressive character art and endless swirling waters are a perfect fit for the hallucinatory, dreamlike quality of the story. His work on the Chinese creator goddess Nuwa, guarding her clay children from the flooded world, is particularly beautiful and evocative. Lewis is a Ph.D. student in religious and theological studies, and it shows—for good and for ill. He blends myth with myth and his own work with an intuitive assurance, and from this, the book draws much of its momentum and raw emotional power, but a bibliography at the end explaining where to find more information or even a simple list of the myths' countries and cultures of origin would have been invaluable to the curious reader.
Some New Kind of Slaughter

By Ed SizemoreBesides the Sumerian myth, three other stories run the length of the book. They are the modern story of Sharon Boatwright, an original version of the Noah story, and the Chinese myth of Fu Xi and Nuwa.

Some New Kind of Slaughter is a mixed bag. Taken individually, the authors have done a good job of selecting and illustrating a wide variety of flood stories. However, the overall narrative structure of the book itself is too fragmentary to enjoy the myths.

Throughout most of the book, the reader is asked to follow five narratives at once: the four larger stories plus a shorter myth. Since this isn’t an epic tale, like Lord of the Rings, these separate story lines aren’t part of a grander narrative that will tie them all back together. For a 126-page book, I find five concurrent storylines silly and excessive. Much more satisfying would have been to keep the narrative devise of Ziusudra’s vision and then to tell each myth in turn completely before moving on to the next.
Comment:  I met A. David Lewis years ago. He was an early supporter of PEACE PARTY. I appreciate his interest in cultures around the world.

Two of the book's mythological snippets involve Amazon Indians and North American Indians (Menominees, according to the forward). Others are set in Africa, India, and Australia.

Rob's review

I thought Some New Kind of Slaughter was decent, but I wasn't bowled over like reviewer Greg Burgas was. I tend to agree with the criticisms above. Other problems:

1) The storytelling is oblique, impressionistic, and dreamlike, whereas I prefer straight narratives. If I don't understand what's going on, I generally don't like it.

2) I would've been more impressed if Lewis and Mann had given equal weight to a dozen or so myths. And woven them into a seamless tapestry. The stories they chose to emphasize weren't necessarily the most compelling ones. Even with the nonstandard version of Noah's tale, for instance, we kind of know how it's going to end.

3) Here's a sample of Mann's art:

The cartoonish style works well enough, but I wouldn't call it "perfect." I think other artists could've done the job too. The art is lovely in some places but ordinary in others (such as this page).

Among the things I liked were Lewis's telling of the myths in modern vernacular--no stilted "ancient" speech. And his overall point that we tell myths and other stories to make sense of the world. The ending was reminiscent of a SANDMAN comic, emphasizing the power of storytelling, and that's always good.

Overall, I'd say Some New Kind of Slaughter is an interesting experiment that only partly succeeds. As Sizemore notes, it's a good introduction to flood myths around the world. But I wouldn't recommend it unless you're intrigued by the subject.

Rob's rating:  6.5 of 10.

For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

1 comment:

Burt said...

It is interesting he did not weigh in more North American tribes versions and well-regarded stories about the "great flood" and only singled out one tribe?