Of Dust and Blood – the Battle at Little Big Horn


By Val Mayerik & Jim Berry & various (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-183-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Potent, Powerful, Unmissable… 9/10

Thanks to the twin miracles of humanity’s love of stories and the power of commercial narrative there’s no logic to how or why some events pass into the forgotten corners of history whilst others become touchstones of common experience or even actual living myths.

In 1875 The Battle at Little Big Horn noted 268 US dead and 55 severely wounded men… and an unknown or unspecified number of native casualties.

Eleven years earlier the Chivington (Sand Creek) Massacre recorded a wildly estimated 500-600 killed and mutilated Cheyenne and Arapaho (two thirds of whom were women and children). To be fair, the figures might have been as low as 60 or 70 heathen souls, but practically nobody white really cared…

My point is that the reason you’ve heard of one but not the other is the force of publicity…

After Custer’s debacle and the slaughter of the 7th Cavalry, the Anheuser-Busch brewery commissioned prints of a painting memorialising “Custer’s Last Fight” and had them framed and hung in bars and saloons across America, forever connecting their product in the minds of generations of drinkers with unvarnished white heroism…

With historical veracity at a supreme disadvantage, the ill-judged clash at Little Big Horn – alternatively described by the winning side as the Battle of the Greasy Grass – has become the stuff of imagination and extrapolation.

Atrocity aside, that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it’s led numerous thoughtful creative types into examining the event on their own terms and applying the perspective of history to the events and the shameful, bloody aftermath…

Two of the very best are comics veteran Val Mayerik and journalist-turned-author Jim Berry who have here shaped the conflict to their own deeply moving ends with this superb offering. Originally self-published through Kickstarter contributions, this stunning oversized (315 x 238 mm) full-colour hardback second edition (also available in digital formats) explores truth and myth whilst adding another powerful fictive component to the sprawling patchwork.

Following Berry’s mood-setting and painfully timely Introduction – superbly augmented by a linework Map of The Battle of the Greasy Grass/Little Big Horn by fellow graphic scholar Rick Geary – the story (lettered by Simon Bowland) unfolds in rapid yet panoramic moments, and traces two ultimately converging paths.

On one side cavalry scout Greenhaw takes some time off to pen a letter to his beloved Rose, even as some distance away young Lakota warrior Slow Hawk performs the funeral rites for his brother. Now he is the last of his family…

Against the background of the tragically documented specifics of the inevitable, legendary greater clash, these two strangers are carried by events towards an inescapable and tragic confrontation…

Rendered with staggering virtuosity by Mayerik, the smaller moments and incidents contributing to the greater clash we all think we know are beguiling and breathtaking in their warmth and humanity, magnificently underscoring Berry’s incisive questioning of the point and merit of the battle.

Augmenting the visual narrative is a text essay describing what happened After the Battle and how commercial interests monetised and weaponised public sentiment against the Indians and led to America’s own final solution to the Indian Wars at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890.

Following on, Val Mayerik: The Process describes, with plenty of access to the artist’s sketchbook, how many of the most evocative images were created before this terrific tome concludes with a Bibliography of further reading for interested parties and a moving page of dedications dubbed ‘Philamayaa’

This is a wondrous and sobering experience any comics fan or student of human nature must seek out share.
© 2018 Jim Berry, all rights reserved. 2nd Edition. All fictional characters are trademarks of Jim Berry and Val Mayerik.

Of Dust and Blood will be published on October 30th 2018 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/