Review by Jamie McNeil
Yakari is a long running Franco-Swiss series about a Native American Sioux Indian boy named Yakari, who has the ability to speak with animals. Conceived by artist Derib (Claude de Ribaupierre) and writer Job (André Jobin), it’s adventure set in the period between the arrival of the horse on the American plains and the Sioux Nation’s first meeting with European settlers.
Yakari and the Grizzly opens on one of Derib’s brilliant night time scenes, Wooden Dam the Beaver Patriarch – accompanied by a young raccoon named Black Mask – urgently seeking Yakari’s help. Black Mask’s parents disappeared a week previously and Thousand Mouths (the Beavers’ foreman) hasn’t returned from going to look for them. Yakari and his mustang pal Little Thunder agree to help and set off the next morning to search for the missing animals. The further into the hills they go the more frightened and skittish the animals they meet become, and before long they realise there is a big problem. Who or what could be so terrifying that even bears are afraid to talk to Yakari? What has happened to the missing animals? Is there any hope of finding them and bringing them home? Yakari may only be a boy but he never gives up. When you have friends you can rely on and the Great Eagle for a spirit totem, there is always hope.
Published in 1979 as the fifth book in the Yakari series (Cinebook puts it at number four), Derib’s illustrative line work is far less refined than it would later become yet already has a charming and seductive wildness to it. He loves a night time setting and they feature frequently throughout Yakari, intricately detailed with an eye that effortlessly creates a phenomenal sense of atmosphere. If there is a part of the human soul that does indeed long for a time when we camped in the wilderness and ran with the wolves, these evocative scenes certainly stir that long dormant part of our psyche. Beyond that he skilfully changes the point of view to heighten tension, and he can do it as well as any thriller artist despite this being a children’s book. As far as the script goes, Job pens an utterly captivating, fun adventure that is both entertaining and easy to read, with a very clever resolution that doesn’t defy the laws of nature, yet remains pleasantly exciting. While he anthropomorphises the animals to a large extent, he doesn’t stretch their abilities beyond their natural design with each given a unique personality and phonetic sound.
Yakari and the Grizzly can quite easily stand alone but it is a story central to the series. It’s referred to many times for the first few ensuing albums and you’ll find the series far more enjoyable for having read it. It’s very enjoyable even forty years after it first appeared and still among the best Yakari tales the duo has produced. In the original French chronology it is preceded by Yakari and Nanabhozo and followed by Little Thunder’s Secret.