Kimble Bent: Malcontent by Chris Grosz

Kimble Bent: Malcontent*
by Chris Grosz
Random House NZ, 2011

This local “Graphic Novel” (as it proudly proclaims on the front cover) received some unenthusiastic reviews, but I liked it. The general critical opinion was that the murky artwork was unworthy of the exciting true story of Bent, who deserted from his regiment in Taranaki in 1865 and lived precariously for nearly twenty years with local Maori tribes. Does this mean it’s a failure, simply because one element isn’t as good as the other? It still tells a story, and thats what it’s supposed to do.

It’s a slim volume executed in scraperboard, which makes everything look like a scratchy woodcut, which well suits the roughness of Bent’s character. Although this laborious method results in some stilted images at the beginning, by the end the artwork has noticeably improved.

The chief design problem is the placement and weight of the font used for all dialogue and captions – it’s not heavy enough to be legible when printed white-on-black, and often laid out badly inside the hand-drawn speech balloons. The panels aren’t designed according to a regular grid, which prevents the numerous battles and skirmishes from becoming repetitive, but sometimes the flow isn’t intuitive and you find yourself reading the captions in the wrong order. This all impedes the flow of the storytelling**.

So, some problems with basic comic book grammar, but a great story and accessible retelling of the classic 1911 book it’s based on.

*It’s just called Kimble Bent on the spine.
**I’ve just re-read the Listener review by David Larsen, and he mentions all of this!

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