Duppy ’78 is a unique graphic novel, because it looks at the Rastafarian culture of Jamaica and the accompanying local underworld rather than drawing from Western ideas or fantastical settings. Creator Casey Seijas draws from the ghost stories of Jamaica and Rastafarianism and blends them into a noir crime world to present something that is both paranormal and gritty. Due to the violence, nudity, and profanity throughout, I recommend this work for mature readers only.
Santa, Elena, and Judah don’t know each other, but the three youngsters are linked by more than their ties to the Jamaican underworld. All three were born with the innate ability to see the spirits infiltrating the world around us and can bind these eerie beings to their wills; however, their gifts come at the price of their freedom since “owning” a powerful obeahman allows crime lords to exercise power over the locals. How long will the children be contented to use their powers to intimidate and harm others? What will happen if they finally decide to break free?
Duppy ’78 is a little slow revealing the primary storyline, but each piece shows the lives and surroundings of each of the children while setting up the seamy underbelly of the Rastafarian underworld. Each child has strong reasons for complying with their affiliated crime family, and each segment of the story builds up to the dramatic climax; however, it wasn’t until I had fully read the comic that I realized how well everything fit together. Initially, it felt disjointed and scattered, but I’m glad that I persevered. The ending is well worth the work of piecing together clues in the early chapters.
The culture in the story is completely foreign to me since I am too young to have experienced the Bob Marley phenomenon in the US, but my fascination with voodoo helped me to decode many of the religious aspects in the story. There is a glossary of common Rastafarian terms used in the comic before the story begins. While it initially made me a little nervous, I was grateful for the rundown as I progressed in the story. Much of the dialogue would have been incomprehensible without the help.
My first impression of Amancay Nahuelpan’s artwork in Duppy wasn’t entirely positive, but there was something strangely compelling about the unique style. As I got further into the plot, the artwork began to fit the dark, gritty world I was exploring, and the beautiful images at the end of the book both charmed and repelled me. I also got the impression that the primary color palette for the book reflected the red, green, yellow, and black of the Jamaican flag. These colors showed up most frequently throughout, and pages often were just shades of one of these four tints.
Overall, I don’t know if Duppy ’78 is something that I would read repeatedly, but it definitely made an impression on me. My eyes were opened to a culture I had no familiarity with, and I felt the children’s plight deeply. If you like crime stories mixed with a hearty blend of the supernatural, this is definitely the story for you!
4 Mysterious Ravens out of 5