By Jim Berry & Val Mayerik (Jim Berry)
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Even More Potent, Powerful, Unmissable… 10/10
Back in October I reviewed a beautiful book published by NBM: a passionate and compelling re-examination of one of the most infamous and iconic moments in American history. I thought it was superb and said so in pixel-print.
After the review posted we were contacted by the writer of the book who very graciously thanked us. He also said that the original crowdfunded Kickstarter edition was not only better but how the book should be seen. He even sent us a copy to prove it.
He was right.
Here’s a tweaked review. Go buy this one. Even if you already have the perfectly excellent oversized, portrait format hardback edition. Get this one too. You won’t regret it…
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 final – official – tally of casualties for The Battle at Little Big Horn listed 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 (on that day, at least) 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 to examine 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 crowdfunded through Kickstarter contributions, this stunning landscape format (295 x 192 mm) full-colour hardback explores truth and myth whilst adding another powerful fictive component to the sprawling patchwork.
Following Berry’s mood-setting and painfully timely Introduction – dramatically augmented by a linework Map of The Battle of the Greasy Grass/Little Big Horn by fellow graphic scholar and historian 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 bloody 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 (illustrated by Aaron McConnel of further reading for interested parties and a moving page of dedications dubbed ‘Philamayaa’… (it means “Thank You”)
This is a wondrous and sobering experience any comics fan or student of human nature must seek out share. And that’s best seen in the original edition.
© 2016 Jim Berry, all rights reserved. 1st Edition. All fictional characters are trademarks of Jim Berry and Val Mayerik.
Copies of the first edition Of Dust and Blood can be purchased on eBay.