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Poor Sailor
posted January 23, 2006


Creator: Sammy Harkham
Publishing Information: Gingko Press, $14.95 128 pages, 2005
Ordering Numbers: 158423184X

Poor Sailor is Sammy Harkham's comic based, we're told, on the Guy du Maupassant short story "At Sea." Harkham draws us into his quiet narrative with scenes of a happy, fulfilling marriage -- official or not we don't know -- shared by a couple who live a mostly simply lifestyle. A visit by a family member awakens thoughts of travel in the male. He joins his brother on a sad, matter-of-fact journey that ends in a series of escalating tragedies. And then he fights to return home, with much greater purpose than that which forced him to go.

imageI liked Harkham's story more in this deluxe book version than I did as an anthology offering or a as a mini-comic, which is strange because I usually go in the other direction. I don't know if Harkham worked on the story between versions or not, but the story is relatively is the same. This version features deluxe printing and delicate two-tone work, and with one panel per page the story's layout mirrors the feeling that comes through the narrative of a connected series of memories as opposed to, say, descriptive action. This increases one's sense of melancholy. There are pages that really stand out here, like one where the two brothers look out to sea, or when the woodsman turned sailor remembers his wife. A standout sequence with dire consequence manages to dance between the ridiculous and the eerie. In general, the story's emotional through-line burns through loud and clear.

The nice thing about Poor Sailor as a first book is that it coheres in a way where any dissatisfaction arises from simply wishing a scene could be more powerful, or a tableau more impressively drawn. Harkham should grow a lot as both a writer and artist in subsequent books, and some of the conflicting elements that make the story more real could be more sharply drawn, both literally and figuratively. Harkham's better at depicting emotion than unpacking character. Still, this very much holds together as a short book, it's conceptually sound, so that when the story's central folly becomes revealed to reader and protagonist alike, you feel the need to close the book in a sudden rush of feelings for what's just taken place.

the massive black border on the image above is mine, not the book's