Wednesday, July 8, 2015
"We ain't gonna let that happen here. Our levee's gonna hold. Won't it?"
Despite its best efforts, America still has a lot of growing up to do. As one of the youngest countries in the world, for everything we get right, there are still some things we get wrong. Racism is one of those things and it's a sentiment that still remains pervasive throughout parts of the country to this day. The concept that one race is superior to another is still fascinating and serves as the backdrop for Strange Fruit #1 from BOOM! Studios. The issue is written by J.G. Jones and Mark Waid, illustrated by Jones and lettered by Deron Bennett.
It’s 1927 in the town of Chatterlee, Mississippi, drowned by heavy rains. The Mississippi River is rising, threatening to break open not only the levees, but also the racial and social divisions of this former plantation town. A fiery messenger from the skies heralds the appearance of a being, one that will rip open the tensions in Chatterlee. Savior or threat? It depends on where you stand. All the while, the waters are still rapidly rising…
What Strange Fruit #1 captures so well is the general reluctance to accept every man and woman as equal, regardless of differentiating factors. Jones and Waid's tale is crammed with subtle nuances that evoke a trustful mistrust of other races by the predominant white race in the early 1900s south. Much of the issue reads as a social commentary on America's troubled history with slavery with the impending breaking of the levees a metaphor for the flood of tolerance. Jones and Waid present their story in a way that's fascinating and generates a slow-burning tension. That tension is immediately dwarfed by the rising waters of the Mississippi River and the arrival of a new individual who literally throws racism around like it's an insignificant gnat. As you read the issue, the pacing generates a sense that the issue is building up to something grander and the payoff at the end is just that.
The artwork in Strange Fruit #1 stands out exceptionally so. Jones' illustrations fall somewhere between photographs and watercolors, offering a style that screams Americana. Each panel could legitimately be its own piece of art as a reflection of a different era in American history. Jones shows a freedom in panel layouts that makes each page feel fresh, relying on a mix between standard grids and insets. Every page demonstrates a commitment to the craft by Jones, as he ensures every scene feels as if it's teeming with life and emotion. For instance, there are quite a few crowd scenes that feel so realistic in terms of scale you would think they were adapted from photographs.
Strange Fruit #1 is a very strong, tight issue. The core premise of a strange visitor set against the backdrop of an area with pervasive racial tensions is fascinating and where the series heads from here will be just as intriguing. Jones and Waid pepper events with sharp dialogue, rife with coarse emotion and an attention to southern dialect. Jones relies on a unique artistic approach that embeds the story in a different era, subtly immersing the reader in a familiar past save for one major difference. Strange Fruit #1 should definitely be on your list of new books to check out.
Strange Fruit #1 is in stores now.