The PopCult Bookshelf
As I mentioned last week, the PopCult Bookshelf and the PopCult Toybox are trading days this week so that I can bring you my review of Danny Boyd’s graphic novel, “CARBON,” a day before his debut book signing at Lost Legion Cards and Comics (another book signing takes place Saturday afternoon at Taylor Books). Also, and this is in the interest of full disclosure, Danny and I have been friends for over thirty years and I have been kept in the loop but have not been a creative contributor to “CARBON.” Bear with me as I nudge that aside to present as objective as possible a review of my friend’s new book.
“CARBON” is a distinctly West Virginian graphic novel. It was written and conceived here and it takes place here. Like with our the state, coal is central to the theme of the book. Everything revolves around the dark, black rock. In 118 pages, “CARBON” spins a feature-length story loaded with mayhem, miners and mythology.
In “CARBON,” Boyd has crafted a rollicking science fiction adventure tale with a heavy dose of the oppressive economic realities that afflict the Mountain State. He perfectly captures the love/hate relationship that many native West Virginians hold for their home state. This infuses the book with an extra layer of meaning that may only be apparent to people who live here and live under the omnipresent shadow of Big Coal.
“CARBON” opens with a prologue that details a prehistoric struggle between good and evil. An early civilization is beset by flying she-devils, so they then pray a God into existence who banishes the she-devils to the underworld. However after they are left unmolested, this civilization turns its back on their God and becomes abusers of the planet. This leaves their God no choice but to banish them to the underworld as well. After millions of years underground, these now immortal damned souls become a special type of coal. As the book progresses, we discover the danger this poses.
Flash forward to the present day where an evil coal baron has obtained a fragment of this “carbon” that burns forever without losing any of its mass. Of course, the coal burns forever because it’s a living immortal being. This coal baron, of whom it can be said that any resemblance to one Don Blankenship is either purely coincidental or blatantly obvious, has been pursuing this rare and special carbon for over thirty years through a series of disastrous exploratory missions which were designed to look like fatal coal mine accidents. He may be aware that mining this coal will unleash forces that could destroy the world, but just think what it’ll do for his bottom line!
We meet Jacob “Heat’ Hatfield, a major league prospect who sees his pitching skills as his ticket out of West Virginia and we also see him fall from grace and wind up working in the same coal mines that claimed his father’s life. At this point, I will suspend the synopsis because going further would reveal too many surprise plot twists and turns.
“CARBON” is a great sci-fi adventure, with some serious political and economic themes running just below its surface. Boyd has crafted a story that manages to entertain and make you think without being too didactic or preachy and he still leaves you wanting more. This book is essentially Act I of a trilogy, which is not to say that it doesn’t have a strong resolution. As always, Boyd’s dialogue has the snappy charm of an independent film and the plot handles what could be too many convoluted twists for lesser hands in a deft and concise manner.
The art by Edi Guedes serves the story well for the most part. His layouts are very strong and he excels at the fantasy and action sequences. Guedes falls down a little bit when it comes to the real world sequences and his drawings of faces. Some of the scenes would have played better if Guedes were more deft at portraying facial expressions. The fact that he doesn’t speak English may have complicated matters some. For the most part, Guedes does a bang-up job and he certainly tells the story with a level of craft far above that of the average mainstream comic book.
There are some minor quibbles. The coal mining towns look a little too bright and clean and the minor league ball club in Charleston is called the “Charleston Capitols”, rather than the real-life “West Virginia Power.” I understand the legal concerns that probably prevented Boyd from using the real name of our minor league ball club, but it’s a shame he couldn’t because it’s yet another example of how deep Big Coal has its claws into this state–even the naming rights of our baseball team was sold to a company that operates coal-fired power plants.
The book includes a foreward by filmmaker John Sayles (“Matewan”) which is nice, but seems to act as though there is some question as to whether or not comic books are a legitimate “medium.” Yes, Mr. Sayles, not only are comics a legitimiate medium and a respected art form, they’ve been around since before the motion picture was invented.
The afterword by Daniel Boyd is followed by a lengthy postscript and both of these essays shed quite a bit of light on the thought processes that went into creating “CARBON,” with the postscript being an enlightening addition that was written shortly after the January 9th Freedom Industries leak of MCHM into our water supply. This essay is almost worth the price of the book by itself. Boyd writes with a passion and a fury about what it’s like to live in this state where a large portion of the population are folks who are basically economic hostages, forced to work for an industry that pollutes and destroys their land.
It is not really that much of a coincidence that this book is being released in a week where 430 coal miners lost their lives in a mine accident in Turkey. Life is a commodity to the coal barons and it’s a cheap commodity at that. That is one of the key messages of “CARBON.”
“CARBON” is the first part of a projected trilogy and after reading it, you will want to see what happens in the next two installments, “SALT” and “GOLD.” You will be able to purchase “CARBON” directly from Daniel Boyd Wednesday, starting at 6 PM at Lost Legion Comics and Games in South Charleston and Saturday at Taylor Books in Charleston, starting at 4:30 PM. The book will not be available nationwide until August, but we will keep you updated on Boyd’s personal appearances over the next couple of months.