by Ben Haggarty and Adam Brockbank
DFC Library / David Fickling Books / Random House
MeZolith is the one strip that my daughter Molly (age 9) would never look at in the DFC comic and although she concedes (now age 10) that it’s very beautifully done this collection hasn’t changed her mind – she still says that it has absolutely no appeal for her. Whereas I had the exact opposite reaction – it really jumped out, completely different from everything else in the DFC comic.
Molly’s complete disinterest in MeZolith shouldn’t be seen as a criticism of the material, more that it’s not a strip of interest for younger children, with it’s gentle storytelling pace and complicated ideas that marked it out as the most mature and complicated strip in The DFC. In all honesty it sat slightly uncomfortably with most of the strips it shared weekly space with and never really felt long enough reading it weekly to really engage with it’s readers, but here, in this beautifully presented and designed hardback comic album, it gets space to tell it’s story properly.
It’s is all about storytelling; presenting a series of prehistoric dream-like, mythic tales of the Kansa Tribe 10,000 years ago, wrapped in authentic details of life in harsh times, with incredibly detailed, very beautiful and rather old fashioned more photo realistic artwork.
(Introducing young Poika, our eyes on the world of MeZolith. From MeZolith by Haggarty and Brockbank, published by the DFC Library / Random House)
Set 10,000 years ago, MeZolith follows the lives of the Kansa tribe living on the western shores of the North Sea Basin; a unforgiving land that the hunter-gatherer tribe are perfectly at peace with, in harmony with the natural world around them.
Each connected, yet distinct story builds our understanding and knowledge of Kansa life and their beliefs by using young Poika as our point of view on this prehistoric world. But at first, Poika’s not ready to become the man he so desperately wants to be; he joins a disastrous bull hunt that leaves him gravely wounded and needing the ministrations of the tribe’s crow woman shaman/healer, he rashly endangers another Kansa hunting party, trapping them in a forest fire with no choice but to cross over into the very dangerous lands of the neighbouring tribe; The Owl People. And yet it’s the results of these rash actions that see him involved in a rescue mission where he truly comes of age, rescuing his father from certain, cruel and lingering death in the Owl People’s land.
(The Kansa hunting party trespass into Owl People territory – but the second time Poika’s father enters the lands of The Owl People he may not come out of it so well. From MeZolith by Haggarty and Brockbank, published by the DFC Library / Random House)
And between these tales of tribal life we share in the stories that the Kansa tell; their mythology, their folk tales. We hear of (and see) stories of the Urga; pallid, pitiful baby monsters that cry out for humans to care for them and then devour all they can find, growing huge and monstrous as they do.
We see near romantic tales of an old man’s youth when he captured and then won the heart of one of the magical Swan People. And it’s these beautifully structured, gently told, traditional folk legends interwoven with the day to day lives of the Kansa that give MeZolith it’s unique feel.
Ben Haggarty is a professional storyteller and it shows, as each chapter is told in a gentle, fascinating tone that resonates with an authentic voice. These are real fictions, that would have been told through the ages round some dim campfire as the night drew in – good, old fashioned things; magical, unafraid and quite often rather unsettling and mildly horrific.
But Haggarty isn’t content to merely deliver individual documents of Kansa life broken up with the folk tale episodes and throughout the book there are wonderful, understated moments where the folk tales begin to cross over – fiction and daily life merge and the whole world of MeZolith takes on a stranger, less certain, more magical aspect, fitting for a tale of an age where reality and the world around them seemed a far more magical and undiscovered place than it is now.
(One of the beautifully told folk tales from MeZolith; the monstrous baby Urga and it’s desire for “juicy, juicy .. man food”. Brockbank’s artwork, so adept at capturing the beauty of the Kansa world is also capable of moments of genuine, unsettling horror. From MeZolith by Haggarty and Brockbank, published by the DFC Library / Random House)
And to go with these incredible stories we have Adam Brockbank’s artwork; lush, colourful, realistic, and quite beautiful to look at. It’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t look out of place 50 years ago or more, yet also looks completely up to date. You’ll find yourself sinking into pages, living the MeZolithic life with the characters sharing in the everyday struggle and the vivid, often nightmarish imagary of the shamanistic storytelling.
MeZolith is hardly typical of the strips in The DFC Library, but it’s a very impressive comic in it’s own right and freed from comparison with the other strips, it’s a beautiful thing. Definitely for an older readership I’ve no doubt that it will find many of it’s fans, me included, far older than the children it’s meant to appeal to, but this doesn’t mean it’s a failure, more a misguided success. MeZolith is a beautiful and haunting tale of ancient culture, full of magic and wonder and beasts and everyday life, all spectacularly illustrated in a gorgeous style.
MeZolith is the second book in the DFC Library and is published on the 1st April 2010.