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posted November 12, 2007
Drawn and Quarterly, hardcover, 255 pages, October 2007, $24.95
This replica version of Laurence Hyde's 1951 wordless narrative told in multiple wood engravings has to be among the most handsome mountings of any such project, with a striking hardcover, beautiful scans, and scads of supplementary material. I just wish there was a little more to Hyde's story of a family of twice-over victims of American nuclear testing in a Bikini Atoll-type situation. A lot of other wood-engraved narratives of this type achieve a level of interest not just for the artistry involved but for the way they visually mix in with whatever story's being told something of the abstract states of mind, or religious impulses or even political ideas being bandied about. This is just an enormously blunt, TV-ready story dripping in cliches set up to cuff in the head an equally blunt, inhumane policy dancing around an obvious evil. The story's stridency may have been fueled by the massive burden a lot of artists felt processing in a moral sense an ugly war less than a decade completed while at the same time trying to make sense of a new war that was being conducted in every demeaning, draining way except for theaters of combat. The best portions of Southern Cross
are found in three or four lovely sequences, my favorite being an elegant sweep back and away from the island as it's abandoned and then subjected to a test. A lot of the scene-setting tableaux are also worth it, if just to examine the various ways in which Hyde casts foreground and background objects against one another. Still, unless there's some level of complexity to this I'm simply not able to see, I would have to label Southern Cross
a pretty, immaculately presented disappointment.