Dawn Land (First Second)

Readers willing to take the time to soak in the artistic atmosphere will be swept away by this wonderfully told tale of two boys 10,000 years in America’s past, based on the novel of the same name by Joseph Bruchac.

314 pgs. B&W; $19.99
(W / A: Will Davis, based on a novel by Joseph Bruchac)
I almost hate to repeat myself, but back toward the beginning of the year, I started a review of a graphic novel called Path by Gregory S. Baldwin by saying “One of the best parts of the comics reviewer gig is being able to be pleasantly surprised by a book that appears out of nowhere.” It feels good to wrap up 2010 with that same feeling, thanks to yet another “comic I’ve never heard of from an artist I’ve never heard of” that, once again, blew me away.
The man I have to thank this time out is Will Davis, an animator and television/film storyboard artist making his graphic novel debut. Storyboarding has a lot of similarities to comic books, of course, but Davis tackles the unique storytelling conceits of the comic book medium so impeccably that you’d never guess it was his first attempt.
Based on the 1993 novel of the same name by Joseph Bruchac, Dawn Land follows a pair of cousins, one who has been blessed by fate and another who has been cursed by it. Set ten thousand years in America’s past, a five-year-old named Weasel Tail jumps in to defend his infant cousin Young Hunter from man-eating Stone Giants who had just massacred the pair’s parents. During the fight, a one-eyed Stone Giant gives Weasel Tail a deep scar on his chest and the ominous warning “You belong to me now. Soon I will summon you. You will come to me.” As they grow into men, Young Hunter begins living up to his name, while a darkness lingers around Weasel Tail, who ultimately attacks a woman and is forced to flee the village. As Weasel Tail begins his new life as the “dog” of the Stone Giants, Young Hunter is sent on a quest to save his people from those same ancient beasts, armed with his tribe’s greatest weapon: the world’s first bow and arrow.
As a plot, Dawn Land seems fairly ordinary, but its execution, particularly artistically, is nothing short of extraordinary. Davis has a measured storytelling style, steadily moving each panel from moment to moment with a lyrical grace similar to Goseki Kojima’s work on Lone Wolf and Cub. The pages of Dawn Land are filled with silent passages and beautiful shots of mountainsides (the latter more implied with quick brushstrokes than explicitly drawn, to wonderful effect). Davis inks his figures with brushed, chunky outlines and scratchier shading lines, then covers the pages in rich, painted gray tones, giving the panels the feel of charcoal drawings. The artwork isn’t instantly striking—this isn’t a book that blows you away as soon as you crack the covers—but it serves the story so wonderfully that the reader can’t help but be swept up in Young Hunter’s story.
To be fair, it took Dawn Land a bit to grow on me. When I first started reading the book, I tried to just plow through the book like the several superhero comics I read the same day, but that doesn’t really work here. This is a book whose joys come from taking time to soak in the atmosphere, from really studying each panel and noticing the subtle details and losing yourself in the unspoiled beauty of the ancient land that sat where we now call New England.
In the book’s afterword, Bruchac says that the story for Dawn Land came to him in a dream, and describes the writing process as like “I was taking dictation, hearing an ancient voice speak.” Davis’ adaptation of Bruchac is similarly dreamlike, and while I haven’t read Bruchac’s novel, I believe I can safely conclude that he’s more than done the original work justice. | Jason Green
Click here for more information and a brief preview of Dawn Land, courtesy of First Second.

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