The Lost Colony, Volume 1: The Snodgrass Conspiracy
Written and Illustrated by Grady Klein
$25.00 (hardcover edition)
The Lost Colony wasn’t at all what I expected.
I should clarify that though by saying that my expectations were pretty base. I heard “lost colony” and “secret island” and saw pictures of a robot and people in nineteenth century clothes and my imagination flew to something like Mark Twain meets Jules Verne meets J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse.
I was just looking for a fun adventure/mystery, but Grady Klein had loftier ambitions. There is a secret island and a lost colony on it. There’s also a robot. But of all the influences I expected to identify, the strongest is Mark Twain. Or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, at least.
The titular colony isn’t a utopia by any means, but the citizens there do seem to enjoy more diversity and egalitarianism than your typical nineteenth century North American community. Stereotypes and prejudices still abound, but the racial atmosphere in the colony feels more like the U.S. during the 1960s rather than the 1860s. Non-whites can own businesses and expect white customers to patronize them, but they can also expect white customers to act superior. Non-white’s aren’t equal to whites, but they’re free. At least until a slave trader discovers the island and starts hanging posters advertising his next auction.
The leader of the colony, Governor Snodgrass, is all about the money. The only reason slavery isn’t a part of colony life is because Snodgrass doesn’t see any money in it. As he tells a slave on the mainland, “It’s too bad that I don’t own you. Because if A.H. Snodgrass was your master, I’d loan you the money to buy yourself from me! Then you’d be free… to pay me back. With interest. In low monthly installments.”
But Snodgrass does have some shady dealings going on with the mainland’s wealthiest citizen. Dealings that could be interfered with if the slavers continue snooping around the island and realize that there are a lot of unprotected, non-white people there. And don’t think those folks can’t see what’s potentially coming and aren’t getting ready for it.
Klein’s fanciful, animated style of drawing and melodic dialogue quickly pulls you in and supports the expectation that this is just a simple, fun adventure story. But as you read, tensions rise and formerly charming characters become sinister. Before long, you’re picking sides and worrying that the few innocent characters in the story may get caught in a dangerous crossfire.
Two such characters are Snodgrass’ daughter Birdy and Louis, a witty slave who sells himself to Birdy for seventeen dollars in order to get away from his true owners. Birdy’s a product of her environment and doesn’t understand the moral issues around slavery; she’s just a kid whose main concerns are getting out of chores and having someone to play with. So, when she sees a poster about slaves for sale, she takes her allowance and sets out to buy one, eventually meeting Louis.
Though the themes are serious, Klein explores them with a sense of humor and it makes The Snodgrass Conspiracy at once thought-provoking and entertaining. The characters – all of whom have thought-out, colorful personalities – are the book’s strongest point, but it’s also beautiful to look at. Only the characters are outlined in ink. All the backgrounds are painted without lines, which creates a soft, magical, appealing look that ironically grounds the story much more than inks would.
And there’s also the robot.