Review by Frank Plowright
Originally published in 1989, The Amazon is early professional work from Steven T. Seagle and Tim Sale, and displays why both would become successful and respected creators.
Magazine feature journalist Malcolm Hilliard travels to Brazil to investigate the disappearance of an American worker named Robertson from a logging plantation deep in the jungle, and rumours of sabotage emerging shortly afterwards. The company appear indifferent and have made no effort to locate Robertson, and it’s clear Hilliard is unwelcome. Digging further reveals a belief among locals of the Amazon manifesting as a spirit that protects the area, and some workers have also come to believe this. The Jatapu tribe certainly do, and Hilliard’s introduction to their culture is both enlightening and terrifying.
Seagle employs an ambitious narrative structure by contrasting the journal entries Hilliard writes in situ with the polished and revised article filtered through his reflections in hindsight. There’s a knowing dishonesty to this later recollection of events Hilliard can’t process through Western cynicism, and both are further contrasted by Sale’s depictions of what actually occurred when neither of Hilliard’s narratives can be trusted. Hilliard is accompanied by his agenda, and experiences considerable difficulty in relinquishing it.
Sale’s art is iconic and disturbing, if not quite possessing the professional polish he’d later acquire, and his Amazon is well served by Matt Hollinsworth’s sympathetic colouring updating the original work. Sale’s storytelling choice is interesting. He frequently employs long vertical panels, occasionally flitting between characters, to better incorporate the landscape, and his horizontal panels are equally extended. There’s little six panel grid to The Amazon. Interestingly, despite the large panels and vast expanse of the landscape, a sense of claustrophobia is overwhelming.
There is an ecological message to the story, sadly still relevant today, but this isn’t hammered home, and Seagle delivers optimism amid the final carnage. This is a contemplative, ambitious and ambiguous work blurring lines separating how people perceive themselves and what the truth may be. The Amazon falls a little behind its grasp in places, with a clumsily inserted diatribe against missionaries being one, and Seagle and Sale have grown as creators since they committed this to print. Despite the minor failings, though, The Amazon is far better than a curiosity and remains worth reading.