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Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hard Boiled Shaman: The Spirit of Boo: A Graphic Novel by Terry LaBan Paperback – March 29, 2012
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About the Author
A native of the Detroit, Michigan, Terry LaBan began drawing and writing comic books in 1989, quickly becoming a player in the then-burgeoning alternative comics scene. Between 1989 and 1998 he wrote and drew three complete series--Unsupervised Existence and Cud for Fantagraphics Books and Cud Comics for Dark Horse Comics--and also worked as a writer, notably with DC Comics, which published a Muktuk Wolfsbreath mini-series, illustrated by Steve Parkhouse, in 1997. Since 2001, Terry and his wife Patty have co-created Edge City, a daily comic strip nationally syndicated by King Features Syndicate. Samples of LaBan’s work can be found on his web site, www.labanarama.com.
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The story is intriguing: Muktuk Wolfsbreath, a Siberian shaman, is called in to help a stricken boy. But it's a twisted case of deceit and evil with more than lives are at risk! You don't have to be a cultural anthropologist to understand what's going on. Exotic elements are handled so they're made self-evident or put in modern context, like Muktuk's magical GPS. There's a beautiful damsel in distress, ghost, zombie, evil sorcerer, and smart-aleck animals, so pick your passion! A word of caution: this book isn't for kids. There are acts of procreation and some of the nastier aspects of death.
The main story's artwork is just right for the story and its pacing. Too complicated would slow the reader down, too simple wouldn't do justice to the richness of the story. Two different colors are used besides the black and white to make very effective shading and to emphasize the transition between worlds in one case. In the earlier stories the artwork is not color shaded and reminds me of the work of Robert Crumb.
While there's a complex, layered mystery at the heart of the story, what really lured me to the webcomic is my weakness for anything of a "shamanic" flavor. Still, I was surprised and delighted by the amount of research LaBan invested in this story. Small, seemingly throw-away details add a richness to Muktuk's actions as the story unfolds, even as the protagonist ventures beyond the physical world to confront long-time adversaries and to seek the help of great and powerful spirits in his efforts to heal a dying child, make peace with his own past and secure the resources he needs to survive the winter. And that's what makes the story so compelling: The reader empathizes with Muktuk's vulnerability and humanity because LaBan juggles the physical, metaphysical and ethical facets of Muktuk's character without dropping a single detail.
So don't be fooled by LaBan's "cartoony" style. There are adult themes that thread through the tale (after all, it wouldn't be a hard-boiled detective story without a femme fatale [or two]), and LaBan addresses those elements in his work, though it isn't of the in-your-face or too-graphic variety. With some minimalist line work and judicious spot color, LaBan capably conjures the sometimes bleak Siberian tiaga and its many inhabitants (both human and nonhuman), and he includes just enough details to make the time and place--including its otherworldly elements and the driving interpersonal conflicts--thoroughly believable.
So much so that I tried to track down Muktuk's earlier adventures (which, beyond the DC Comics/Vertigo limited series, are almost impossible to locate). For other completists out there, take heart: LaBan collected the first three, long-out-of-print adventures and added them to this collection. The original stories share many of the themes and plot elements explored in the 2011 version, but their inclusion here allows the reader an opportunity to see how a creator refines his vision AND his craft over time. They are well worth the read.
And, on an even geekier note, can I tell you how much I love the cover of this collection and admire LaBan's abilities? From the seductress in the smoke to Muktuk's earnest and determined expression, LaBan's composition and style perfectly evokes the tone to carry the reader into and through "The Spirit of Boo." Bravo!
If you're into solid, hard-boiled mysteries with occult elements and a dash of anthropological scholarship, you'll love this book. If you're interested in seeing how a webcomic translates to the print medium, you'll be intrigued by this book. And if you're a fan of smart comics, this book clearly signals that LaBan has raised the bar.
The writer really did his research on the nature of classical shamanism in this remarkable series. Everything from spirit guides, riding the drum, power songs, dreams, the World Tree, enemy ghosts, the Great mother, crossing over into the Land of the Dead to rescue a spirit, etc.- there is a wealth of authentic detail woven into the story line. The art work also shares this same strong sense of authenticity.
And of course you get the sense that however useful and helpful a shaman might be- they are always outsiders and they make people nervous while they are around. At the end of the day, the people are always relieved to see them ride into the sunset on their reindeer sleigh. This even applies to other shamans....