From Publishers Weekly
This debut graphic novel ambitiously imagines the purposes of prehistoric art within the context of an imagined precivilization. Most strikingly, his tale is expressed entirely through the actions of his characters--their dialogue is written in an invented, phonetic language. The book's central figure is an unnamed wall painter within a small cave-dwelling community. The painter (or JANI ) is marginalized within his culture--perhaps because of his unsuitability for either hunting or child-rearing; however, the book mainly considers the relationship between art and power. In one sequence, a hunter persuades the artist to distort a historical record. Elsewhere, his picture writing presents an alternative vision of social organization, as opposed to the dominant ritualism. And in a pivotal moment, the artist's unofficial history of his community's life enables perspective and insight that affect subsequent events. Though inspired by real artifacts and motivated by recognizable, basic human motivations, this book is a fantasy, further clarified by a Twilight Zone twist at the book's end. Neal's dark pen work suggests texture, detail, and light effectively, and shoulders the burden of his almost-wordless storytelling. Despite some occasionally unclear moments, the broad sweep of the book's action and ideas unmistakably raises thoughtful questions, marking Neal as an artist to watch. (Oct.)
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Set in a gloomy Paleolithic-era cavern, this ambitious graphic novel portrays clashes and alliances among a tribe of cave dwellers to make telling statements about survival, struggle, and the role of art in society. Rejected by his clan, a cave painter strikes an alliance with a slave woman, and together they reveal unwelcome truths to their oppressors using the power of storytelling through drawings—a crude progenitor of the comics medium. The story is told entirely through the visuals; the little dialogue that occurs is in a simplistic primitive language created by Neal. The book’s success lies less in Neal’s treatment of the protagonists’ conflicts, as engrossing as they may be, than in the masterful way he tackles the formal demands of conveying the narrative and characterization without the use of text. Through darkness and illumination he skillfully places his characters in bold relief against the drab subterranean background, although the illustrations are occasionally wanting in clarity and make an already abstruse tale even murkier. Nonetheless, readers who are up for the challenge will be amply rewarded by this exceptionally inventive work. --Gordon Flagg