With so many big names and big events plastered across the shelves of your LCS, sometimes great comics get left behind – buried in longboxes until someone comes along to find these Hidden Gems.
Written and drawn by Hermann
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Afrika, the latest original graphic novel by Belgian writer/artist Hermann, is a frustratingly inconsistent but visually arresting tale that both celebrates and condemns the continent that it is named after. The art is some of the best I’ve seen in a comic in quite some time, and yet the story is frustratingly alienating in its lack of detail and character development. Reading it was a pleasant experience due to the visuals, but it ultimately dropped the ball narratively. It definitely made me want to see more of Hermann’s work and made me hopeful that he will one day hook up with a more accomplished comics writer who can provide a decent story to compliment the art.
As Afrika begins, Hermann introduces us to our protagonist, a middle-aged European expatriate named Dario Ferrer who has made it his personal mission to protect the wildlife of Africa from poachers. He has amassed a modest entourage and fleet of vehicles that help him with his goal, which leads the reader to believe that he has amassed a vast fortune, the source of which is not revealed until much later. Much like Rick Blaine from Casablanca and Han Solo from Star Wars, he chooses to stay out of politics until he is suddenly forced to take a side. He is paid a visit by a reporter named Charlotte who plans to chronicle his mission, and during one of her tag-alongs with Dario, they both discover a mass of burned bodies and quickly find out that the corrupt local government was behind it. The rest of the story follows Dario and Charlotte as they attempt to evade the President’s hired thugs who try to rub them out so they can’t spill the beans about the atrocity they witnessed.
Hermann’s portrayal of the African countryside and wildlife is the most realistic and beautiful depiction of nature on the comics page since Niko Henrichon’s masterful linework in Pride of Baghdad. His human characters are a little more crudely drawn and appear almost repulsive when compared to the animals. Their look brings to mind the work by such legendary artists as Richard Corben and the late, great John Severin. Hermann’s art effectively reinforces the main theme of the book, which contrasts the beauty and splendor of the continent with the ugliness and corruption of many of the local governments that control certain areas in Africa. Where the book goes wrong, however, is in the overall execution of the plot. At only 64 pages, we don’t get much of a chance to get to know Dario and Charlotte as sympathetic protagonists, and the big reveal regarding Dario’s past is handled rather clumsily. There is also a weird subplot revolving around a member of Dario’s crew trying to steal his woman away from him that doesn’t add anything at all to the story aside from a multi-panel sex scene.
Ultimately, the most frustrating aspect of Afrika is the ending, which basically tells us Dario’s final fate via a radio broadcast, describing an event that would have looked amazing on the page but sadly is something “heard” and not seen in the context of this story. For someone who established throughout this book that he is a very talented artist, this ending feels like a copout or perhaps was a compromise with his original publisher to keep the page count down. Either way, it’s a very disappointing ending to a story that had a lot of potential had he taken more time to develop it. Regardless, despite its narrative shortcomings, Afrika is still an interesting read and earns 3.5 out of 5 Hornless Rhino Corpses.