Project H original softcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist: Brandon Carstens
Publisher: Wonjoolaai Studios
Price: $16.95 US
Comics are an international medium, popular the world over, obviously. When one thinks of the medium in a global sense, though, the terms “American comics,” “Euro-comics” and manga come to mind readily. South Africa certainly doesn’t make that short list, so it was with interest that I delved into this graphic novel by South African creator Brandon Carstens. To my pleasure, I found that South African culture factored heavily into this murder mystery/conspiracy story. Even better was Carstens’s exploration of the notions of faith and secular thinking and how they affect the manner in which a society functions. He touches upon the conflict between nostalgia for simpler times and the undeniable power of new technologies have over the 21st-century consciousness. There’s no denying that Carstens’s ideas are challenging and engaging. Unfortunately, his storytelling skills distract from those ideas. There’s a lot of great potential to be found in this graphic novel, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired. I suspect Carstens would be well-served by working an editor and polishing his line art.
Sam Hart is toughest cop on the Cape Town force, driven to fight crime by any means possible due to the childhood trauma of losing his mother to street violence. Sam believes that might makes right, having cast aside his preacher father’s Christian teachings of forgiveness and love of one’s fellow man. When Sam meets the woman of his dreams, his anger finally fades… until she’s taken from him as well. Determined to find and kill his wife’s murderer, Sam instead is sidetracked by Project H, the teachings of one Jasper King, the leader of a secular movement that seems to transform South Africa for the better.
Carstens ‘s artwork is serviceable, but his effort to achievement a realistic look and atmosphere falls short. The mechanics of the story are clear; it’s easy to see what the characters are doing and feeling. However, the artist can’t seem to convey fluid movement in his figures as the story requires at times. He also struggles with perspective. Furthermore, while race doesn’t play a prominent role in the plot, it is a factor that is to be considered at times, but Carstens doesn’t differentiate between the Caucasian and black characters as clearly as he could. Still, the fact that the art isn’t confusing and only interferes with the reader’s appreciation of the story rather than his or her understanding of it is certainly a mitigating consideration.
The book opens with a subplot that’s not vital to the main story, but it’s nevertheless interesting and relatable. The protagonist’s problems begin with the distance that’s between him and his father. The rocky father-son relationship is handled quite well, and I like how Sam’s resentment for his father translates into his mistrust of faith. It also makes his acceptance of Jasper King’s message easy to understand and accept.
I was also taken with the subplot about the father’s desire to catch up with a world that seems to have left him behind. As a pastor, Jasper King’s secular movement obviously flies in the face of his entire identity, but Carstens takes it further than that. He portrays the father as a technophobe, and his inability to communicate with modern technology serves as a parallel to his inability to communicate with his son.
While the ideas that Carstens explores are thought-provoking and grounded, the machinery of the plot itself is clunky. It lurches forward, propelled by cliches, settling into extended lulls that really don’t add all that much to the story. Carstens spends far too much time on the conception of Sam and Cindy’s relationship since she’s really more of a catalyst for the story. The dialogue is often stilted as well. I do like that Carstens incorporates some South African phrases and colloquialisms into the script, but for some reason, he only explains a scant few of those terms and phrases, leaving his non-South African readers scratching their heads as to the meaning of some of the others.
The ending, which adopts an uncharacteristically (but cliched) supernatural element as a key element is disappointing. Carstens’s ultimate message with this book is about the important of faith in modern society, that secularism is actually an evil that only provides temporary benefits. That belief has clearly led to some passion, and that passion certainly does find its way into this book. I suppose I can’t condemn the ending simply because it’s not in keeping with my own personal beliefs, but it does seem like an oversimplified answer for the interesting concepts the creator dared to examine. 5/10
For more information on Project H, visit the official website.