By Jarred A. Luján — If you’ve been anywhere near me for the past year (or, really, most other folks in comics), you’ve probably heard ranting and raving about a book called These Savage Shores, and now…it’s ending. Yes, the final issue of this great series — These Savage Shores #5 — arrived yesterday, and I think this is the most emotional reaction I’ve ever had to a book finishing up...a strange blend of complete excitement to read it and utter dread knowing there isn’t a #6. I received a review copy in the service of writing this very article and still had to kind of hype myself up to read and finish it. I am, however, glad I did, because it’s a perfect ending, by the way.
Anyway, this article isn’t a review. Not really. It’s actually just me explaining why this book is in the upper echelons of this medium, as well as in storytelling at large.
The prose is poetic. There’s not a single point in the series where it feels hung up or rigid. The writing, dialogue, and narration all flows beautifully together over and over again. These characters weave a great web as the book goes forward, and all of it matters. All of it has gravity. Every single panel hits and every single panel counts. The last eight or so pages of the final issue were just WRECKING emotionally, so be prepared for that. I cannot imagine a comic with a set of characters in it that all had a similar level of depth and development throughout, and it gives life to a very serious connection to all of them. Thematically, I’m pretty sure I’ve made a dozen notes about the potential themes in the book, but the truth is this: it has a lot to say, and it says it in the silence of certain pages as much as it does in the narration or the dialogue.
Secondly, there isn’t enough to be said about artist Sumit Kumar and how completely incredible his work is. We could fill this article to the brim with pages that Kumar belted out during this series, and it still wouldn’t truly capture his achievement. There’s a now-famous page (see below) from issue 1 that most of indie comics twitter swooned over for about a week, and justifiably so. That page alone has everything you could ask for from sequential art: a single action per panel, it leads the eye, it tells a story even if you removed the words, and it is completely and totally gorgeous. I hadn’t even heard of Kumar until this book and I’m almost positive he is my favorite working artist now that I’ve read it.
Also, colorist Vittorio Astone should just work with Sumit Kumar forever. The way Astone crafted the palettes for many of the battle scenes in this story was outright incredible. Astone has an amazing gift at developing the colors on the page to really match the intensity or subtlety going on. This pairing must have been a cosmic event, because these two are really something else on the page.
The thing that strikes me most from letterer Aditya Bidikar is that same dynamicism I spoke about in relation to Astone. These Savage Shores has a masterful storytelling in its subtleties as it does in its bigger moments, and that is something that Bidikar’s lettering strongly reflects. That ability is such an artistry in it’s own right, one that some of us might miss, and we shouldn’t.
Needless to say, the creative team has all knocked it out of the park on this book for each and every issue. But expert craftsmanship and perfect execution isn’t the only thing that makes These Savage Shores stand out. Beyond its creators and their abilities, this book is uniquely possible because it is a book about colonial India created by a writer/artist co-creator team of Indian heritage, and, in Kumar’s case, residence. As a result, there’s so much depth to this story’s location, its time period, its characters, its mythology, and the greater interweaving of the political drama in the background, because these are two creators who have an inherent tie to all of it. This is the work of two creators sharing a piece of that with us throughout this story.
These Savage Shores is a testimony to the power of what happens when creators of color are allowed to tell stories about their own backgrounds, their own cultures, their own ancestry, their history. It’s existence is a call to the rest of us to create works that reflect that. We have stories to tell, and this is proof that we can tell them in a uniquely brilliant way. There should be a great deal of gratitude towards Vault Comics, because they regularly put out content like this (Submerged gave me similar feelings, but I lacked the proper way to articulate them at that time.)
Anyway, These Savage Shores is a powerhouse of a book because it pairs a brilliant creative team with a unique cultural perspective. These Savage Shores is one of my favorite comics of all time—and it is certainly my greatest creative inspiration. So, here’s to These Savage Shores in the hopes that some of us can carry its lofty torch.
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Jarred A. Luján makes comics, studies existential philosophy, and listens to hip-hop too loudly. For bad jokes and dog pictures, you can follow him on Twitter.