Thursday, March 11, 2010

Review: Crogan's March

Crogan's March, by Chris Schweizer, 2010, Oni Press, 168 pages, $14.95

This is the second in a series of books about the daring deeds and derring-do of the ancestors of the Crogan family. The first, Crogan's Vengeance, was about "Catfoot" Crogan, a pirate back in the early 1700s. This one features Peter Crogan, a member of the French Foreign Legion serving in Africa in 1912.  Peter, a former boxer, appears to have joined the Legion for the same reason many others did: to run away from his problems.  Now he's stuck in a desert in Africa, ferrying rich locals from one town to the next, and trying to fight off bandits, sandstorms, and a mysterious cave-dwelling creature that might or might not be a djinn.

It's a solid adventure story, appropriate for young teenagers but enjoyable for adult  readers too. The characters are well-developed; the "good guys" have flaws and the "bad guys" aren't just evil but have reasons of their own for opposing the Legion.  Peter is a fun character to root for, as he isn't just some hapless guy in over his head -- as I said, he's a former boxer, and also a crack shot and a natural leader.  And he's not blind to the fact that many of the locals don't want the Legion around.  He's just trying to do his best and keep people safe.

One nice aspect of the book is that Schweizer has clearly done his research. I learned a lot about the Foreign Legion without feeling like I was sitting in history class. He loads it up with information about the sort of people who joined the Legion, its goals, the relationship between the Legion and the standard French army, the locals it protected, the locals it fought against, and lots of other little details: How do you survive a sandstorm? What kind of pets did wealthy Africans like to keep? Why is it a good idea to wear underpants?

I also like Schweizer's art, which seems to have loosened up some more since the first book.  Characters are a little more cartoony-looking (I'm particularly thinking of the brash, short commander of Peter's unit -- the man has a jutting, pointy chin that looks caricature-ish) and the storytelling is excellent.

I do have one problem with the book, however, and this was also something that bothered me with Crogan's Vengeance: everything feels a little cramped.  From a photo in the back, it looks like Schweizer works in a bigger size, and then the art gets shrunken down to fit the 9" x 6.3" inch dimensions of the book.  Perhaps as a result, there isn't a lot of room for the images to breathe, and every panel is packed.  There isn't a single full-page image in the book, which is a shame because the story and setting lends itself to a least a few glorious drawings of sweeping vistas -- the African city! the fort being attacked by thousands of rebels! etc. -- I want some full page spreads of these things.  It feels like Schweizer has so much that he wants to say that he can't spare a page or two to show us a big awesome drawing.

I have a strong interest in wanting this series of books to succeed (both as good stories, and financially, so that Schweizer continues to make them), since I have two young boys and I'm hoping to have a nice collection of age-appropriate comics for them to read as they grow up.  This series is already lot of fun, and it has the potential to be really great.  I hope that Schweizer continues to up his game with each successive book.

READ MORE: Here's a 26-page excerpt and an interview with Schweizer.  (And here's an older interview with Schweizer.)

BUY IT: From the publisher here or from Amazon here: Crogan's March

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