Miles Greb and Zak Hartong compose a love letter to wildlands long lost in “Clovis” with an engaging blend of scratchy art and nature-based storytelling.
Story: Miles Greb
Art: Zak Hartong
“Clovis” follows Mea on her quest to find her son Anzik as she traverses a North American landscape lost to time, and human incursion. Along the way, she meets Nobear, a giant sloth, and discovers many of the beauties and dangers of the world around her. She battles wolves, runs with mammoths and swims with beavers on her journey, and the epic battle that unfolds in the final pages of the book is a good reminder that as touching as her path may be, it has one particular end in store.
We often focus on early human life within these landscapes as brutal, harsh and short. We pore over relics with modern eyes and ascribe meaning where there may be more, or none. “Clovis” takes a look at the smallness of man in the larger world, with homage paid to that world in a way we don’t always see in media, and especially in comics. Hartong and Greb pay loving attention to the way the creatures of “Clovis” move, feed, live and hunt. They’re often drawn larger than Mea to demonstrate her solitude, and Nobear’s size next to hers is a constant reminder of her frailty and a cartoonish touch that endears each to each other, and both of them to us.
Hartong also pays close attention to texture in “Clovis.” Rocks, trees, grass, leaves and petals are drawn with a lot of care, and the earthy tones of the book gain a lot of visual interest from the splatters, action lines and newsprint dots that characterize the book. There is a balance here, and Hartong mostly hits it well. There are a few moments of odd anatomy, like when Mea’s spear throw is caught not in full extension but with her arm in front of the weapon while action lines denote forward motion. Some action scenes in “Clovis” are a little cramped due to the small panel size and sheer scale of the moving creatures in them, but “Clovis” is a book that demands you slow down and absorb what you’re seeing. Dialogue is spare, Mea’s the only speaker, and Nobear tends to emote more than vocalize. Kinetic scenes matter just as much as the stillness. A second read merits just as much enjoyment of the first, and the overwhelm of some of the pages settles into a nice rhythm when you realize it’s largely intentional.
Greb’s storytelling is heartfelt and nicely balanced between Mea’s heartfelt moments and her more comical antics. She bounces from mammoth back to mammoth back with goofy facial expressions that Hartong blends well with the creatures’ more realistic anatomy, and the juxtaposition merits a chuckle in the midst of our awe. “Clovis” moves pretty quickly through its peak emotional moments, however – taking some time to pause on Anzik’s reveal and the ending would make the book even more solid. There’s real estate here that could be given over to a few more panels in each section.
“Clovis” boasts borderless balloons, which are a good choice against Hartong’s incredible detail and composition. The font is nice and scratchy, with slender letters not unlike tree branches or ancient fingers daubing pigment on hard surfaces. The sound effects blend well with the other textures on the page while maintaining their cartoonish pop, and they’re used judiciously enough that you can appreciate their presence without being overwhelmed.
Whether you’re a naturalist or a novice nature appreciator, “Clovis” is a lovely book. It’s full of animals we’ve only read about, and seeing them come to life on the page is well worth the experience. Greb pairs this love letter to days gone with a touching story that Hartong brings to life very well, indeed.
You can purchase a copy of “Clovis” from Miles directly, and peep the creature features in the back of the book. They’re not to be missed.
The Verdict: 8.0/10 – “Clovis” captures the wonder of landscapes lost with good storytelling and beautiful art.