'Bering Strait:’ Graphic Novel Review

Bering Strait is perhaps the most human book I’ve read in a very long time. Ironically, its subject matter is not primarily human, per se. That is to say that the protagonists are not modern Homo sapiens, but rather our cousins, the Neanderthals. Set against the harsh tundra during the sunset days of the Neanderthals, it’s a searing look at what it means to be self-aware, to innovate, to fight for survival, to hope for a better future, to question what it means to be a people, and what makes us human.

The excellence of Tom Manning’s work here cannot be overstated. It has the scale of an epic, but with none of the blockbuster bombast. Manning’s writing grips you, and the little moments of horror that pepper the story initially definitely build to a crescendo at the end… the desperation is absolutely chilling. It’s just a fantastic tale with so much symbolism and allegory all in one. There are also these lovely moments in which Eiko explains what it means to be one of the “Awake People” and how they differed categorically from the “Lost People;” the simplicity of the argument is such a masterstroke! I won’t spoil it for you here, but it’s definitely a thought-provoking exercise. The final pages are an experience not unlike watching a Darren Aronofsky/Christopher Nolan hybrid film.

Manning’s artwork, presented in stark black and white, is engaging and effective. The high contrast conveys the harsh, inhospitable vistas so well, and the rawness is visceral. The opening pages of Earth circa 40,000 years ago are so well-composed as we zoom in on our tribe of Neanderthals. I could stare for an ice age or two at the spreads of massive herd of animals, too… they’re so soothing. And just in case you think it’s all peaceful, the art in the previously mentioned moments of horror are deliciously violent and macabre. The lettering is top notch, too; the way Manning carries speech bubbles from adjacent panels into the next tricks the mind into reading the panels simultaneously instead of sequentially which works really well in chaotic circumstances.

At the heart of this story is the simple fact that #StoriesMatter. Art matters. It’s a glimpse at our narrative; it’s our legacy. As the “wise” beings we pride ourselves on being (It’s in our scientific name!), it’s not enough that we exist in the present. Our past intrigues us, scares us, shames us, and glorifies us. Our future is a simulacrum, an abstraction based on past experiences and present knowledge. Bering Strait is a tale about survival and legacy. And one day, it might just be ours, too.

Creative Team: Tom Manning (writer, artist, letterer)
Publisher: Robots and Monkeys Publishing
Click here to purchase.

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