Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Ain't no law says I can't be here."
"There's written laws, and then there's the other kind."
The artist from SNOW BLIND does not disappoint, as you shall see. He's taken the opportunity to open up with much larger, more focussed panels and their beauty benefits enormously from the paper this is printed on.
I'm generally quite sceptical about publishers' comparison points in their solicitation blurb: selling their new series in advance to retailers and readers alike by referencing other critically acclaimed comics. But this time SCALPED looks like being on the money, and not just because the land was once more freely roamed by Native Americans before being stolen from them (see Ethan Hawke and Greg Ruth's jaw-dropping INDEH). You will, however, have to infer what you will, for I've already tried to tell you exactly what I mean in three different ways, each one explaining far too much for a comic which plays so well with your preconceptions.
It begins in the Spring of 1450 A.D. by the shores of a vast lake which will prove pivotal throughout.
"The lake holds the whole history of the place.
"The lake's the only witness to all that's come and gone.
"It cost me a niece... and a sister-in law."
Clearly the narrator is far more contemporary, but how contemporary and who is it?
"The land... the water...? It sets the toll and takes what it will."
What we are witnessing at this point back in 1450 A.D., by the sparse, lakeside settlement of animal-skin tipis, is murder for a mate. Not an open, honest, if brutal joust between stags in a thunderous display of virility, but a covert ambush of one man by another with intent to steal. Steal he does, claiming his terrified prize at night as she coddles her baby, pulling open the tipi's flap and staking his claim.
"This land has been fought for.
"This patch on earth has been earned.
"And lost... over and over again."
We witness that happening throughout the centuries which follow until a rudimentary township is established with the arrival of wagons, a small community blossoms and a church is erected, then more utilitarian, agrarian buildings make their mark along with motorised vehicles which already look a little dilapidated by 1950 A.D..
"And those that paid for it with blood and sweat and tears?
"They ain't about to give it up."
Now, this morning, in that self-same settlement, a young man in a backwards baseball cap is being bundled unceremoniously into a police car by a man in his mid-forties wearing a policeman's uniform. Apparently the boy isn't welcome on their land. But apparently the arresting officer isn't legally a lawman. The boy bullishly protests that - according to the Sheriff in Cargill - they're all squatters. But all the man called Bruce will concede is that they are a closed community, self-sustained, running off the grid, and that he and his two brothers will protect its borders.
Which is where, I believe, we came in.
"Shelly! How goes it?"
"S'all good. Shot me a couple weasels this morning. Looks like you caught one yerself."
We may well return to assumptions and presumptions anon, but let's first talk about Tyler Jenkins.
There's such attention to detail throughout and most especially on the evolution of the hamlet, emerging from scratch like Will Eisner's DROPSIE AVENUE which you'll also find within Eisner's A CONTRACT WITH GOD TRILOGY. As the population of Eisner's town (and then city) swells, so do its domiciles and I loved the coming and going and repurposing, refashioning of buildings to suit shifting needs.
The Grass Kingdom is far more tightly controlled for it remains rustic with grain silos, water towers, a light aircraft hangar, jetties for mooring small fishing boats and a view of the lake which is to die for.
All of this Tyler Jenkins delivers with a double-page flourish of wet washes which had me gasping out loud. It's akin to an aerial photograph snapped out of a helicopter, and you can identify individual landmarks seen on previous pages and those you'll encounter as Bruce drives their unwanted intruder way off their land.
It's phenomenally well structured too: there's a horizontal horizon of low-lying, misty blue mountains, but the sandy township itself is held within parallel, diagonal bands of much darker green - trees to the north, the lake to the south - while your eyes are further driven in to its centre from the top, right and bottom-left by the grey asphalt which of course radiates outwards as well. Quite swiftly, in our obdurate young friend's experience.
Much is made in that car-bound conversation of Robert, Bruce's older brother, who seems to reign over this closed community like a king - one with a temper and a propensity towards drink. It's made very clear to the youth that he's lucky to have been caught by Bruce and not Robert. But all that we see is a tight-lipped man, tired and haggard beyond his years, sat brooding on his porch and staring out to the lake. There follow two free-form pages of quick-fire recollection before three long, comparatively static panels as ochre afternoon becomes a crimson sunset then night.
Then he sees something else.
I mentioned attention to detail, didn't I? The distant past and present danger will converge most unexpectedly, at which point you may want to rethink.
For a completely different but equally unexpected take on autonomous communities living off the grid, please see Brian Wood and Mack Chater's woefully underexposed BRIGGS LAND.