- Posted by Ed Sizemore on September 22, 2009 at 9:38 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: story by mpMann and A. David Lewis; art by mpMann
- PUBLISHER: Archaia; $19.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Some New Kind of Slaughter (or Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again): Diluvian Myths From Around the World) retells twelve ancient flood myths and one original story set in modern times. The book uses the earliest known flood myth as the narrative frame to tell the other stories. The Sumerian king, Ziusudra, is warned by the god Enki that the world is about to be flooded. He takes his people to the coast and buys a boat large enough to house them all. While on the ship, Ziusudra has visions of other people and their flood experiences. Besides the Sumerian myth, three other stories run the length of the book. They are the modern story of Sharon Boatwright, an original version of the Noah story, and the Chinese myth of Fu Xi and Nuwa.
Biblical and comparative religion students are aware that Noah’s tale in Genesis is not the only ancient flood story. In fact, it’s not even the oldest. The oldest flood story is from Sumer and dates back to approximately 1700 BC. Almost every culture has a flood myth. Some are stories of global floods; other are local flood stories. As this book points out, we are still writing flood stories today about experiences in New Orleans and Phuket, Thailand.
Given the number and variety of flood stories, it’s amazing that someone hasn’t attempted a project like this before. Certainly, there is more than enough material for a monthly series to run several years. Of course, the problem may be the research needed to portray the historical and cultural context of each story accurately. Most flood stories would barely occupy one issue, so each month the creative team would have the challenge of presenting a different ancient culture. This may explain why no one has done it before and the present book limits itself to just twelve ancient tales.
Some New Kind of Slaughter is a mixed bag. Taken individually, the authors have done a good job of selecting and illustrating a wide variety of flood stories. However, the overall narrative structure of the book itself is too fragmentary to enjoy the myths.
Throughout most of the book, the reader is asked to follow five narratives at once: the four larger stories plus a shorter myth. Since this isn’t an epic tale, like Lord of the Rings, these separate story lines aren’t part of a grander narrative that will tie them all back together. For a 126-page book, I find five concurrent storylines silly and excessive. Much more satisfying would have been to keep the narrative devise of Ziusudra’s vision and then to tell each myth in turn completely before moving on to the next.
Another complaint I had with the book was the lack of bibliography or source notes for the myths. I suspect that some readers, like myself, will find this book whets their appetite for further reading on flood myths. Unfortunately, the authors have left us to our own devices to find if there are any collections of flood myths and if so, what the best ones are. I did locate a website with a listing of many, if not most, of the world myths by country with footnotes. So for those interested in learning more, that is a good place to start.
This lack of source material is most glaring in the original version of Noah that Mann and Lewis tell. Those familiar with the Biblical narrative are going to find a lot of new material. Even students of the rabbinical traditional will find unfamiliar characters and elements. What Mann and Lewis did was combine into one story the Biblical version, rabbinical tradition, and material from the Qur’an and Islamic tradition. I’m well-versed in the Genesis account but have no familiarity with the Jewish and Islamic sources, so I was shocked by the appearance of a fourth son for Noah, a giant, the Book of Raziel, the body of Adam, and seventy villagers in this story. I had no clue where all this new material came from until I began to research the extra-Biblical mentions of Noah. If you’re going to radically alter a familiar story, then you’re obligated to let your readers know this is an original version and what you based this new telling on, even if it’s just your own imagination.
In general, I liked Mann’s artwork. He does a good job of displaying the different cultures for each myth. In fact, I was able to identify the country of origin of a couple of myths based on the clothing of the characters. He uses a thick-line style that works well to convey character emotions. However, this same thick line causes problems with characters in the background or in panels simulating a movie long shot. Often, there is a lack of details in these characters. Hands become parallelograms with lines for fingers. In some panels, the juxtaposition of fully rendered figures and stick figures was jarring enough to throw me out of the narrative to stare in disbelief at the art.
Despite its flaws, Some New Kind of Slaughter works well as an introduction to the rich world of flood mythology. In this book, you can see how wonderfully diverse this body of literature is. Floods are still a deadly reality in the world today. As the authors astutely point out, our experience with floods is one of the many ways that we are still connected to our ancestors and the authors of these myths. We still tell stories to help define and understand our experiences and to find meaning in the midst of what seems to be utter chaos. Some New Kind of Slaughter helps us to reconnect with our forefathers and to find comfort and companionship in our common struggles.
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)