Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mythic reads from Campfire





Last week I got a pack of several Campfire graphic novels. Included were retellings of classics like Three Men in a Boat, Dan Johnson's adaptation of the Jungle Book, a modernized version of Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves, an original story called The Treasured Thief, biographies of Mohammed Ali, Nelson Mandela, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Wright Brothers. I will get around to reviewing each of these books, but the first stories I dove into were three mythology books that were Perseus: Destiny's Call, Jason & the Argonauts and Ravana: Roar of the Demon King. These will be the three books I am reviewing today.

First is Ravana, a Hindu myth with scripting by Abhimantu Singh Sisodia and art by Sachin Nagar. The name of the lead character was familiar to me because it was prominent on one part of the Campfire book Sita: Daughter of the Earth. Ravana kidnaps Sita to force her to be his bride, but Sita's rescue by her husband Rama and his army is the climax of the Sita story, but in Ravana's tale, it gets just more than a passing mention. Ravana is a son of two worlds- noble and learned men of peace, and noble and fierce demons driven by power and glory. But even with these two very different philosophies, Ravana excels in either world, but it is the battle-worn path for glory of his demon-kin that Ravana chooses to follow. As he builds a legend, makes cities and kingdoms prosperous, and creates music and scriptures Ravana also must contend with pride and the downfall it will bring.
This book is beautifully illustrated, and Nagar's art is consistent with the style and characters as seen in Sita making this a worthy companion to Sita. Actually, I felt the story telling was better in this book, probably because Ravana stands alone in his story and everything is about him and driven by him. He is the hero and the villain all at the same time. In the story Ravana takes credit for creating hymns, scriptures, holy places and other things that tie into the Hindu religion, and seeing these things at their "inceptions" actually makes it easier to follow.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Ravana a solid 9.

Maybe life is about the journey and not about the destination. That is the moral put forth in Jason and the Argonauts, written by Dan Whitehead and illustrated by Sankha Banerjee. The thing that sets Jason apart from so many other Greek heroes is that he is not a demi-god, or a child born of a god and a human. Jason is fully man, yet he manages to rally some of Greece's greatest heroes to his side (including the mighty Hercules/Heracles) for a quest that is set up to be a suicide mission at best. Jason is at times foolish and at others he is extremely clever (like when he has to outsmart some indestructible zombies- yeah, it's really in the book!). The story moves at a good pace, and loose ends tie up nicely making feel complete. Jason's wife, Madea, also teaches us that women who are ruthless and insane should never (NEVER) be made angry and left to wander on their own!
Banerjee's art is rough and takes a few pages to get used to or adjusted to, and the coloring is often times very dark. Overall, it fits the mood of the story. Banerjee's weakest part of storytelling is in the action shots where things are either lost in a dark shaded, roughly scribbled panel, or they seem just static. Still the book is an enjoyable read and goes along well with the Labors of Hercules graphic novel. I give Jason & the Argonauts a 7.5.

The last review is Perseus: Destiny's Call. A popular story theme in Greek myths is someone trying to forge their own destiny (and failing horribly! Can you say Oedipus?) or trying to discover what their destiny is. Perseus is both sides of this theme- Perseus is out to find his destiny while others try to stop the young hero to thwart their own horrible destinies. Again, the hero is sent on an impossible quest that seems more like a suicide mission, and again it is brains, not brawn, that wins the day. Writer Dan Foley fills in a back story on Perseus I had not read before, and it made the story new and entertaining for me. Naresh Kumar supplies the art and he does a commendable job. Characters that should be beautiful are, characters that are ugly or monstrous are certainly that, too. The settings, costumes and characters are all presented as larger-than-life giving the story even more of an epic legend feel. Of these three myths, Perseus and Ravana were the strongest reads, but since Foley and Kumar took something I was already familiar enough with and managed to re-envision it in a way that was very entertaining to me, I have to give Perseus the edge. I rate Perseus a 9.5.

Campfire is distributed in the US by Steerforth Press. You can find out more about where to buy or order these titles at campfire.co.in or at steerforth.com.

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