There are some stories that deserve an epic scope. They deserve a slow burn that raises the tensions of the situation to a point where it is uncomfortable for the reader and unbearable for the characters in the story. Unfortunately, Afrika by Belgian creator Hermann, takes the opposite approach and moves the reader and the characters through the story so quickly that there is no time for anyone to feel any kind of stress or tension.
“The masterpiece by Belgian comics creator Hermann is available in English for the first time! A misanthropic European expatriate, Dario Ferrer, acts as guardian of a Tanzanian wildlife preserve. Accompanied by Charlotte, a naive European journalist, Ferrer discovers a village under fire from mysterious agents of the foreign-backed government. Ferrer and Charlotte must fight not only to protect the preserve, but to expose government corruption–and survive to see another day.”
One of the reasons that movies such as Gorillas in the Mist are so powerful is that the viewer becomes attached to both the protagonist and the setting. Any threat to either of those is felt by the viewer as well. Without the opportunity to feel that connection, the movie is just some people and animals on the screen. There is no reason for the viewer to care beyond whatever attachment they had at the start of the movie. That is the problem with Afrika.
Hermann (best known for his post-apocalyptic series, Jeremiah) assumes that the readers will be as upset and engaged as his protagonist by the actions of poachers. The reader is expected to relate to a main character who is difficult to get along with, anti-social, and driven to extremes to patrol his game preserve. But why? He never gives the reader any indication of the real harm that is done by these poachers. Why is it a big deal if they kill a rhinoceros, but not a big deal if they kill a few gazelle? Why is it part of the circle of life if a crocodile kills a baby hippopotamus, but it is not part of that same circle if a human kills the same animal? (I am not arguing for either of these points. I am simply pointing out that, without some frame of reference, the reader is not necessarily going to sympathize with the anger of the main character) The lack of perspective and information that hobbles this story and keeps it from being incredibly powerful.
The art in the story is beautiful. Hermann’s pencils and colors capture the splendor and glory of Africa. The animals are majestic and the scenery is gorgeous. The scenes with Dario watching over the animals are the strongest in the book. His humans are not as well rendered. I am not sure if this is by choice, making them ugly compared to the beauty of the natural surroundings, or if his figures are naturally stocky.
Hermann sticks with the nine panel grid. While he may combine two panels to create a larger panel, or split a panel to create two smaller panels, he does not waste time withs splash pages or figures posed for “the look”. Afrika is all about the story…which is why it is so frustrating that the story still felt rushed. Another 20 pages of this tight storytelling method would have made this a powerful book. 20 more pages to make the reader care about the animals. 20 more pages to let us care about the characters. 20 more pages to let us feel some tension.
If all things were equal, I would say that the book might be a toss-up. There is some gorgeous scenes and an ok story. It might not be for everyone, but fans of Hermann’s other work might be excited about it. But, what puts this firmly in to the “pass on it” category is the price. $15.99 for 64 pages seems a bit much. Granted, it is a hardcover, but I think they could have gone with a soft-cover of the book for a much lower price point and I would have felt better about it. But the story is rushed and fails to capture the heart of the reader. Instead of being something that is powerful and moving, Afrika is an over-priced missed opportunity.
Afrika is released by Dark Horse on March 14th.