by Simon Roy and Jason Wordie
Dark Horse Originals, 2014
(Note that I am not doing this challenge in numerical order!)
The Seattle Public Library is among the finest for a metropolitan area in the US. Each branch specializes in a different genre, and for my branch, it’s graphic novels. By browsing in this row and pulling out books at random you are sure to find great reading material.
I chose Tiger Lung because, by the name, I thought it had to do with Chinese history, as lung is the traditional name for the Chinese dragon. But it turned out to be something better, three tales set in Paleolithic times, 30,000 years ago in what is now the modern-day Ukraine. Glaciers were still extant and ice age conditions, with conifer forests, steppes, and mammoths, and survival was harsh and not guaranteed.
The book was actually a collection of three stories plus some bonus material, less a graphic novel and more of an anthology. The three were thematically similar, dealing with the ways the spiritual world intersected the world of the living. The artistic style was loose and sketchy, full of life and movement, as if the artist had actually lived amongst these people and had sketched them on the fly. It actually did a lot to humanize them for me. They evince apprehension, puzzlement, even irony — they carry their children on their shoulders and even want to sleep late. The warmth of them comes through, but also the grittiness — guts, dirt, frayed leather, and broken teeth.
The stories were not only interesting in an anthropological sense — the creators really seem to have done their research — but also in a horror one, which is of interest to me, as a horror writer. Terrifying encounters with the supernatural take place in the forest, under the glacial ice, and in the Realm of the Undead. The spirits are part human, part animal, depicted in pale, sickly pinks and blues, with transparent skin through which their internal organs glow eerily. Simon says in the afterword that these organs are glowing with power; but they also recall, to me, Aboriginal Australian art in which the animals’ interiors are depicted in X-ray style, perhaps in the same principle.
I was also reminded of the famed “Sorcerer” dancing figure from the caves at Lascaux, itself a human-animal hybrid.
These spirits are not wispy and ethereal ones though. They can rend and tear, throwing guts and gore everywhere.
The stories themselves are about the adventures of the nominal character, a shaman named Tiger Lung, the last of a hereditary line of shamans. Each tale is stand alone. In the first, a young Tiger Lung undertakes a journey under a glacier to retrieve the skull of his father, who had disappeared there months earlier. In the second, while traveling with a friend, he encounters a massacre, a strange girl, and a tribe of brutal were-hyenas. This one is my personal favorite. The black-and-white artwork is in pen overlaid with watercolor, loose yet fraught with tension. There’s also dark humor, and irony: the traveling companion has a Neanderthal wife who does the literal heavy lifting in the relationship. I was also fond of the hand-drawn, scribbled lettering, which added to the intimate tone for me.
The final story concerns a journey into the actual spirit world and again I liked the starkness of it. The coloration here was particularly fine, with the real world depicted in gold and sepia, the spirit one in ghostly pinks and blues, while the night scenes were in blueish-gray.
The sketches at the back were also a fine addition. I hope the rest of the creators’ work of this series is published together.