Tribes From IDW: One Of The Most Beautiful Graphic Novels Of 2014

I've been trying to read Tribes: The Dog Years from IDW and Soul Craft for a couple of months. It has gone on three trips with me, carefully wrapped up because it's a beautiful book. But life being what it is in terms of lack of time lately, I've had to see it lying quietly on tables rather than getting the chance to really explore it. Enough is enough. On my third trip, I will actually see what's obsessed me to the point of carrying it in my luggage so many times.

Well, let's be clear that I knew that the artwork was by Inaki Miranda, the artist who I had noticed on Coffin Hill from Vertigo and been fairly entranced by. That was enough to get my attention initially. Miranda has also worked on Fairest, Judge Dredd, Aquaman, and other comics, and says things like "I say we dive into the heart of contemporary visual symbolism" on his blog. He is a very interesting artist. His art is interesting and his ideas are interesting. Let's see what he does with Tribes.

[Opens book cautiously after taking cellphone picture of the cover… which in the Deluxe Edition's horizontal format is raised and glossy around a spreading symbol, and in the regular edition is nicely glossy with attention to rich color.]

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[Takes another photo of the gorgeous endpapers made up of block-like images from the graphic novel chosen in part for their color qualities… Colors on the book are by Eva de la Cruz]

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[And on opening pages, we get symbols related to the "tribes" of the book. The pages of which have been rendered to look like parchment.]

IMG_7778Now this might tease your knowledge of pop culture right now by making you think of the popularity of something like Avatar: The Last Airbender, the animation and the comic. But The premise of Tribes: The Dog Years is very different. It follows the lives of very young people living in semi-primitive societies following an apocalypse. And what writers Michael Geszel and Peter Spinetta have done is to create a kind of strangely haunting post-apocalyptic world where people are very close to nature even as they live amid the decaying wreckage of the past.

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The people are "shadow" like, as it says in introducing the story, and have honed their instinct to follow a primitive life, but that primitive life also means violence and competition. The writers have added a welcome twist by placing a conflict between this new way of life and the mysteries of the lost modern world right at the center of the story, making it a mystery as well as a journey of discovery for our young characters.  Miranda creates these softly shaded and visually balanced images of new found beauty in primitivism, as above, but also upon occasion descends into near-horror elements, as below:

IMG_7781There's an angularity in his depiction of human movement and bodies that stands in opposition to his very rounded choices otherwise that you can actually see most clearly above here, almost like an anatomical breakdown of Miranda's compositional style.

IMG_7780As you can see here, fleshed out as it were in his fight scene layouts. Another thing Miranda does very well is work with a large cast of characters, some significant, others more part of the tribal setting as the more civilized groups resist the totally savage and wilder entities in this devolved world.

IMG_7782Miranda engages carefully with architecture and large distance shots in the latter half of the book, and his attention to detail is clear in the sketches and process work included in the deluxe version of the collection. His lines are even more harmonized and appealing when you see them laid bare in the sketches, and help contribute to the haunting reflection on the past, our present.

IMG_7783And we can see his character designs a little more pointedly in the sketches above, too. I think what this book makes clear about Miranda is just how individualistic his style is. That's not to say that you won't find other artists trying to create similar atmospheres or inspired by the same influences, but I get the sense that Miranda pares away elements that are less personally expressive, and ventures into the mainstream as much as the creator-owned comics world with an unswerving instinct for his own trajectory as an artist. I hope to see him working on many, many more books and Tribes seems to indicate in its conclusion that future books may follow in the series as the characters continue to grow up and forge their new world.

About Hannah Means Shannon

Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. Independent comics scholar and former English Professor. Writing books on magic in the works of Alan Moore and the early works of Neil Gaiman.

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