A Map in the Dirt

A Map in the Dirt is a short (15-page) comic by Jess Smart Smiley available in several forms.

A Map in the Dirt

It’s part of the HIVE 4 anthology from Grimalkin Press. It also completed a successful Kickstarter campaign in April, so it’s available in stand-alone binding as a collectible book, although I’m not sure how you order it.

A Map in the Dirt is about a group of animals (although the deer is drawn as a human in a deer mask) running from hunters out to kill their members. But it reminded me of a variety of influences — Native American folktales, nature comics, chase suspense sequences, murder mysteries (as animals are picked off one by one), mystic fables, and vengeance stories. Mostly, it struck me as a meditation on life, focusing on survival under dire circumstances, and a reminder of natural connections among everything on the planet. Deer, narrating the small group’s struggles, says, “Just as Bear protects, the stories are my calling…. My role is to remember…”

The art is detailed, with lovely animal portraits and an odd mixture of image and text in the opening that adds to the feel of a timeless story. Tracks, seeds, icons, and the like are used as design elements to draw attention to and surround key figures (as you can see in sample pages). The black areas are night shadows, adding to the feeling of death somewhere near but unseen.

I like works that keep me thinking after I’ve read them, those where images swim unbidden into my mind’s eye, and this is definitely one of those. You can find out more about the author’s intent in an online interview. Jess’ all-ages vampire graphic novel Upside Down will be available from Top Shelf in 2011.

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