Review by Ian Keogh
Every once in a while a graphic novel arrives produced by unknown creators who deliver something so good, so fully formed without any faltering steps, that it’s difficult to believe you’ve not come across them before anywhere. Bone is an example, as is Mezolith. It occurs early in humanity’s history, when tribes have gathered together in societies for mutual protection, and when sharp tools have been developed for hunting.
Individual adventures vary between four and fifteen pages, and considering the dangers faced by the Kansa people, there’s an odd serenity about Ben Haggarty and Adam Brockbank’s stories. The way into the strips is Poika, still very young by modern day standards, and on the verge of stepping from someone needing protection to someone who will become initiated into the customs and skills of his tribe. They live what’s almost a hand to mouth existence, dependent on what the hunters can provide for food, clothing and warmth, and as well as the forces of nature railed against them, there are the dangers of other tribes.
We’ve become accustomed to wonder and complexity forming our graphic novel reading experience, and Haggarty restores a faith that relatively simple stories well told can still engage and delight. He’s exceptional at introducing unsettling elements into everyday experience (at least as it was few millennia ago), and it’s a shrewd diversion to take the occasional break from the tribe’s day to day experiences to explore their beliefs and myths in the form of what feel like lost tales that we should know from somewhere. These stories dance on the borders of expectation, but confound it neatly, and broaden the parameters of Mezolith.
Adam Brockbank wasn’t known to comics readers before Mezolith. His superbly precise style originates from a career as a concept artist, designing sets and effects for film, and work on storyboards has enabled him to adapt very easily to the demands of continuity based storytelling. Compared with the detail demanded for his film portfolio Mezolith stories must seem like a day off, but by any standards this is excellent art. There’s an innate sense for layouts, and the characters are personalised and have a nobility about them, enhanced by Brockbank’s fine eye for colour. Brown features heavily, but this is far from a dull looking book.
Haggarty’s stories build upon each other, yet each can be read with no reference to the others. Joining the dots, however, is a satisfying experience. This ranks as a young adult graphic novel rather than all-ages because like all the best fairy tales, there are spine-tingling moments that younger children may not react well to, with even some of the goodhearted characters having their disturbing qualities.
The UK version is just plain Book One, but the US version is subtitled Stone-Age Dreams and Nightmares, which certainly covers part of the content while ignoring the remainder. Luckily for everyone, there’s a Book Two as well.