How does one even begin to describe a comic like Grady Klein’s “The Lost Colony”? I suppose a few basics are in order: “The Snodgrass Conspiracy” is the first volume in a series of “Lost Colony” books, it is a colorful romp through early nineteenth-century America, and it is currently being published by First Second.The story opens with a very appropriate phrase: “Where the @!&* am I?” Not only does this reflect the attitude of our opening character, a lost slave trader that stumbles upon a ferry to an uncharted island in colonial America, but also that of the reader being plunged into this tremendously unique and unfamiliar world. This is not the United States we know, but rather a Pynchonesque parody that tweaks the world of antebellum America into something abstract, satirical, and, at times, absurd.
It pushes the boundaries of expectation and keeps the reader guessing with abrupt focalization shifts and mysteriously ambiguous dialogue. The story foreshadows without being predictable, the dialectic idiom is modern without being unbelievable (though it is certainly noticeable), and the art is simple and minimal in a Schultzian sort of way without necessarily appearing derivative. One of the clever and enjoyable artistic flourishes Klein employs is the use of visual metaphor: showing, say, one of the characters sitting in the palm of another character’s hand rather than simply saying it.
The plot of this first volume is fairly straightforward, much of it being concerned with repeated efforts to keep strangers off the hidden island, with a few twisting elements thrown in (such as a little girl’s attempt to purchase a slave or a bumbling personal servant’s failure to follow his boss’ commands) that keep the story interesting and propel the reader towards to the literally explosive denouement—not to mention the many references of racism and how it was possibly conceived during this period.
The characters make a number of allusions to hidden intentions and ulterior motives: secrets implying a larger narrative altogether. However, the mystery created by these references and coded language are not fully addressed by the end of the first volume—the reader is essentially plunged down a well without being given a rope to climb out with. This, ultimately, is justifiable considering that “The Snodgrass Conspiracy” is probably more interested in introducing the world and the characters inhabiting it.
Speaking of characterization, this story’s motley cast is very strong and allows the author to craft a narrative stemming solely from the foibles of the characters’ idiosyncrasies. Among the people introduced in this volume are a ferryboat operator that plays violin and sings with his dog, a precocious young girl trying to shirk her chores by purchasing a slave, a Hispanic potential-prospector posing as a Chinese medicine man, and a corrupt mayor that babbles grandiloquently and makes numerous references to the American founding fathers.
“The Lost Colony: Volume One” is an interesting book and a quick read, but as it stands it is far too compressed to really impress and too short to be fully developed. I would recommend this book more for when Volume 2 is released in order to give the reader a larger scope so, when the first volume suddenly ends the way it does, the reader doesn’t feel like they are dropped off a cliff without any of their questions addressed. Otherwise, I am personally looking forward to the way the story pans out in the long run.