The Lost Colony, Book One: The Snodgrass Conspiracy is the first volume of a planned 10-book series by author/artist Grady Klein. As of this writing, three of The Lost Colony books have already been published by First Second. If you’re not familiar with the First Second label, they put out some pretty interesting material that is often quite different from what the major publishers are distributing. They seem to be a home for independent author/artists interested in exploring a wide range of subject matter.
The Lost Colony series is centered around a secret island in a fictional 19th-century America, and the actions of the rather unsavory characters who inhabit it. In The Snodgrass Conspiracy we get to know these characters as they attempt to dupe, drug, enslave, and generally manipulate one another. Most of them seem bent on getting a leg up on the social and fiscal ladder by standing on the necks of their neighbors.
The Snodgrass Conspiracy is sort of a black comedy in comic book form. While Klein’s colorful, exaggerated characters thrash about and spout rhetoric for comedic effect, there is something dark and uncomfortable lurking just beneath the surface.
I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out what to say about the plot of The Snodgrass Conspiracy. I think there are two reasons I’m having such a hard time getting started. Reason one: It’s pretty tough to summarize this story. There’s a lot going on here, and Klein is tackling some pretty heavy issues, race and class foremost among them. But even more confounding is reason number two: It’s over my head. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface here, I just don’t know exactly what it is. You can tell that the characters and events of this story are probably an allegory for modern America. There’s definitely some social commentary going on. Maybe some simile. Probably a metaphor. I don’t know, I just don’t feel like analyzing and re-analyzing and deciphering and getting to the bottom of the mystery. And because I’m that lazy, I feel like I’m missing half of the message. Or maybe I’m afraid that the secret will be that people treat each other as shitty in real life as they do in The Lost Colony. I guess I’m getting to old to want to be reminded of that in my comic books – I’m reminded of that enough by watching CNN.
The graphics of The Lost Colony are sort of intriguing to me, in that I can’t really tell how Grady Klein works. The illustrations, while possessing a sketchy quality of line, have such clean edges that they must be at least processed by a graphics program at some point. Also, it’s only the foreground items that make use black line – the backgrounds of Klein’s panels are constructed of cut-out-style shapes of flat color, creating a colorful, posterized world. If I had to guess, I would say that Klein either begins his pages by sketching on paper and then scanning and processesing the characters, OR he actually starts at the computer, sketching with the aid of a Wacom tablet.
Klein’s illustrative technique is well executed and very appealing, and he’s an expert at capturing the erratic emotions of his characters and their interactions. However, I think I personally prefer a more traditional approach of ink on paper. I like to see the artist’s ‘fingerprints’, and the tiny chaos that takes place at the end of that pen. As I said though, this is just personal preference and I think many people – especially those drawn to graphic design – will find a lot to like here.
First let me say that I know that this is the first book of the series and there’s a lot of set-up and introduction going on. And The Lost Colony, Book One: The Snodgrass Conspiracy is not a bad book. It just didn’t really do it for me enough for me to seek out The Lost Colony, Book Two: The Red Menace. That being said, If I’m stuck on a long flight and my choices are The Lost Colony or Skymall, suffice to say I’ll disembark that plane no more informed about the latest life-changing air ionizer than I was when I boarded. I’m not saying avoid the book, I’m just saying I didn’t love it.
I’m pretty sure Grady Klein is creating a very smart series here. It might just be a little too smart for me. Between that and the digital illustration, I’m giving The Lost Colony, Book One: The Snodgrass Conspiracy a 5 out of 10.
I would bet some of you would rate this book much higher than I have. If you’re one of those people, please, make use of the comments section and let me know what I’m missing here.
And as always, happy reading!