Review: Lewis & Clark

Lewis & Clark

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It’s called Lewis & Clark (First Second, 2011), but Nick Bertozzi‘s historic graphic novel is about Meriwether Lewis.

That’s not a complaint. The journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark covers more than two years and nearly 8,000 miles. It’s a big story. But by reducing it down to a story that is, at its core, about just one man, Bertozzi is able to make an epic adventure extremely intimate.

Lewis isn’t always the most likeable of heroes — while he’s without a doubt charming, he’s also too often grumpy and impatient. Even when the more reasonable and sensible Clark tries to keep him in check, it’s Lewis’ passionate pursuit of adventure that drives the story

Bertozzi’s art skirts between playful and realistic. Since at its core, this tale is about the people involved, communicates his character’s emotions through strong, simple lines, showing joy and anger wordlessly. He’s equally skilled at portraying the sweeping landscapes that our adventurers encounter throughout the Louisiana Purchase.

I think page layout and the way panels interact with each other is something that’s often overlooked when it comes to comics (even though it’s essential), but in this regard, Lewis & Clark is incredible. Bertozzi’s pages are beautiful to look at as whole — sometimes they are full of tiny boxes, sometimes they sweep across two pages. Other times, he dispenses with formal borders and just utilizes white space to separate scenes. Depending on the page, the story moves from action to contemplative rapidly and that keeps things unexpected and exciting.

Overall, it is a fast-paced story, though — almost too much so. Bertozzi does pack in quite a bit in a relatively short book. While he was clear that his intention was not for this to be a definitive history, there is a sense that Lewis & Clark could’ve been twice as long and still not included everything.

It’s not giving too much away to discuss the end since this is history, but I loved how Bertozzi handles Lewis’ letdown after his adventure. Real life ceases to be as exciting and he remains haunted by his experiences. Still, even when it ended in tragedy, Lewis gave us all a great gift — he gave us knowledge of what was to become the rest of the United States.

Despite being (more or less) a Virginian (we love our history here, to a fault), I wasn’t actually too familiar with Lewis & Clark’s story (the Lewis & Clark scholar in the family is my mother, who I will be passing this book to shortly) and as much as I loved it, Nick Bertozzi’s Lewis & Clark ultimately made me want to know more. I don’t think there’s any better recommendation for it than that.

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