Crogan’s Vengeance original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Chris Schweizer
Editors: James Lucas Jones & Jill Beaton
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $14.95 US
When this book was first released a few weeks ago, I thumbed through its pages quickly and initially didn’t think much of creator Chris Schweizer’s artwork, so I set it back on the shelf at the comic shop. The publisher sent along a review copy a short while later, and I’m relieved, because otherwise, I would have missed out on one of the most fun, well-plotted and quirky graphic novels of 2008. Schweizer offers an action-packed story full of charismatic and oddly charming rogues. Fans of the pirate genre, which has enjoyed renewed popularity in recent years, won’t be disappointed by this book. And that artistic style that I found initially off-putting? Closer examination opened my eyes to sharp, effective and colorful character designs and a style that really conveys the non-stop kinetic, fluid movement that makes for such an exciting adventure. Crogan’s Vengeance isn’t quite an all-ages book, but it comes close. Tween and teen readers will enjoy it, as will their parents.
Catfoot Crogan was once a crewman on an English ship, but his life was forever changed when it was set upon by pirates. To spare their lives, all of the crewmen, Crogan included, pledge allegiance to the pirate captain, who turns out to be a fairer commander than the crazed, callous man who was in charge before. Crogan — a man of action and intelligence — finds a life of honor among the pirates, but one among their number, D’Or, boasts a cruel streak, a greedy heart and bloody ambition. Crogan’s neck is on the line again, but with him lay the hopes of his crewmates and the honor of pirates everywhere.
Schweizer’s artistic style seems crude at first glance, but he actually merges simple shapes and thick lines to achieve some strong visual storytelling. The hero of the book initially looks like an emaciated, 90-pound weakling, but Schweizer’s bold strokes reveal hidden strength and agility. Thinness in the characters’ limbs and extremities is part of Schweizer’s style; the same characters are thicker in the middle, where their strength lies. While his characters boast simple but effective designs, the backdrops are more meticulous when it comes to the detail. Schweizer’s presentations of schooners and pirate ships are lovely, and he shows them off in sufficiently large panels so as to have the desired impact on the audience.
One of the things I like about Schweizer’s design for Crogan is that while he has a lot of great attributes — intellect, courage and strength — the artist doesn’t present him as the typically lantern-jawed, muscle-bound archetypical hero or rogue. There’s a somewhat average look to Catfoot Crogan, and that’s an important everyman quality that’s in keeping with the framing sequence and that offsets his impossibly agile and lucky nature.
What makes this story so engaging is that Schweizer keeps shifting gears. Just when the reader thinks the story is headed in one direction, it veers off into another. Just when you think you know who the bad guy is, he turns to be an ally as another threat steps forward. Those twists and turns end up making this feel like a complex and dense story, though one that’s accessible, entertaining and appropriate for all save the youngest of readers. Furthermore, you’re not going to find a better value in comics. This is 185 pages of story and art in a hardcover package for 15 bucks; beat that.
The apparent core premise of “The Crogan Adventures” is somewhat disappointing, in a way. The framing sequence — featuring a father telling his son of the adventures of one of their Crogan ancestors — indicates that further books in this potential series will feature other members of the title clan (and a quick read of Schweizer’s website tells me I’m right, as a new Crogan book is forthcoming). While I welcome the potential for another installment of Schweizer’s storytelling, I’m a bit disappointed the next one won’t feature these pirate characters. Still, Crogan’s Vengeance stands up well as a self-contained, one-off story, and my desire to see more of these characters certainly doesn’t detract from the strength of the creator’s work on this thoroughly impressive effort. 9/10