Sorry this is a couple of days late. I had it written before I went to Chicago, but recovering from the con got the best of me when I got back and I’m just now getting around to posting it.
The Lost Colony, Book 2: The Red Menace
Written and Illustrated by Grady Klein
And I thought the first volume was daring.
In “The Snodgrass Conspiracy,” Grady Klein introduced us to a colony of people who are remarkably integrated for a nineteenth century U.S. community. All wasn’t well though, especially after a slave trader found his way onto the island and folks started getting jittery. There were plenty of ethnic stereotypes, but the characters so successfully transcended them and the story was so about race that you understood that Klein was being purposeful in his presentation of White bigots, Black folks who sit in a bar all day, the Native American who runs the bar, and a Chinese mystic.
In “The Red Menace,” Klein borrows on the good will he created in the first book to explore even more hateful attitudes. Moving from the topic of Black slavery, Klein introduces the father-in-law of A.H. Snodgrass, the governor of the colony. Sherman Krutch is an elderly, but still intimidating soldier who hates Native Americans and would like to see them all dead. He arrives at the colony about the same time as a couple of entertainers who want to put on a patriotic show about legendary American Johnny Crevasse (who even has his own Steve Canyon-esque comic strip). Snodgrass is afraid of Krutch, but he whole-heartedly embraces the entertainers’ notion of playing on patriotic fervor for profit. Snodgrass is a war profiteer himself and proud of it.
This of course makes things difficult for our barkeep Joseph Padre (Jo’pa, for short), who’s got a dark secret that he’s trying very hard to keep hidden. He has allies in folks from the first book like Birdy, Louis, and Pepe Wong, but they’re mostly there for moral support. They wouldn’t be much good against the townspeople who are getting increasingly riled up by Krutch’s rhetoric and the equally anti-Indian Johnny Crevasse show. Patricia though, the elderly Black woman who constantly seems to be on the verge of taking violent action against White oppressors, may be a different story.
“The Red Menace” can be an uncomfortable read, but like “The Snodgrass Conspiracy,” there’s always a point to the touchy subjects and hateful dialogue. The tension Klein creates is painfully tangible and you grow more and more worried about the non-White characters as you go along. They’re not nearly as integrated as we first thought. Not really. And even seemingly innocuous characters like Snodgrass become dangerous in their inability to see what’s really going on. Which makes me think about myself and my attitude about modern race relations.
The Lost Colony is freaking subtle. You can tell as you go along that it’s about something, but Klein’s so good at drawing you into the story and just making you worry about the characters that what he’s trying to say doesn’t jump right out and smack you in the face. Not until you stop and think about it, it doesn’t. It’s a story with a message; not a message disguised as a story and having to think about it to arrive at it makes the message that much more profound.
And because it’s not just told from a single viewpoint, it has the additional benefit of saying different things to different people. If you’re White, you’re going to have a very different reaction to The Lost Colony than you would if you were Black, Native, Asian, or probably even a member of some other minority. And members of various minorities will likely have different experiences from each other too.
In the “Snodgrass Conspiracy” review, I briefly compared Klein to Mark Twain. I can’t predict where he’s going with The Lost Colony (though from the “Forthcoming” blurb, it isn’t going to be pretty), but as stylistically different as Klein is from Twain, The Lost Colony has the potential to approach Huckleberry Finn in importance. God, that sounds bold to say, but as I try to get my mind around how The Lost Colony makes me think and feel, I can’t convince myself that it’s an exaggeration.