Saturday, 25 July 2009

Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze

Eric Shanower's Age of Bronze is a retelling of the Homeric epic story of the Trojan war, including the events not covered in the Iliad. In fact, beyond the Iliad, it draws its sources from major and minor works from classical Greece and Rome (such as the plays of Sophocles and Euripides), many Medieval European sources, and continues through Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida and beyond. There is an extensive list of the sources at the back of each issue, including a glossary and multithreaded genealogical charts for the main houses.

Only three volumes have been published so far (the last one being part 1 of 2) and it already stands at a staggering 600 pages. The story is marvelously told and the writing and art are well within the spirit of the times and well deserving the 2 Eisner awards. The first installment, A Thousand Ships, opens with Paris as a cowherd on mount Ida, which grounds the series before launching into more fantastic adventures.

Equally impressive is Eric's artwork in the Age of Bronze. Not only is it finely drawn with exquisite attention to details and expressions, it is also historically accurate. It draws upon the archaeological excavations of the places where the story took place: Mycenae, Knossos, and Pylos, among others, and especially Troy itself. Eric Shanower has done amazing work researching and reconstructing the architecture and clothing of the time. Impressively, even the geological lay of the land is rendered quite closely, at least for the places that I have personally visited. Mycenae's ruins become gloriously alive in these pages with Agamemnon and Klytemnestra walking down the palace corridors.

The author-cum-artist has researched quite well the wide range of literature, art, and archaeology. . . . The clothing, hairstyles, pottery, frescoes, architecture, boat construction, and the settings in general are in such close agreement with current research that it makes one reflect how differently modern scholars envision the Late Bronze Age Achaeans than did past Homeric specialists. . . . Aegean prehistorians will appreciate how much archaeology has advanced our knowledge of the Mycenaean world to allow Shanower to reproduce it so faithfully.
Thomas F. Strasser, American Journal of Archaeology

Beyond the awesome scope of the story — this is the closest thing in comics to a true generational saga, what with previously unknown princes, kidnappings, and the other schemes of the rich and powerful. The tragic element in Sacrifice is overwhelming and makes you feel like you're watching a Greek play. Shanower sticks to the sources and, as much as possible, downplays the theological elements.

I've chosen to downplay the supernatural element in order to emphasize the human element. The only fantastic details I've retained are dreams and visions. And when you think about it, these aren't necessarily as supernatural as they might first appear. Everyone draems. Many people have hallucinations. Others are convinced they've had visions. People the world over believe they communicate with gods - it's called prayer. So I've let dreams and visions remain - they're pretty human after all. But no gods in the flesh.
All things considered, a highly recommended read! I'm eagerly awaiting for the next volume.
Thank you Eric.