When you finish reading “A Map in the Dirt,” the new short comic book from our own Utah artist Jess Smart Smiley, you may be left scratching your head. It is a dark, poetic and haunting tale that is also, at times, an overly confusing one.
In a lot of ways, “A Map in the Dirt” reads like graphic poetry rather than a graphic novel. The language and imagery are heavy with symbols, almost overflowing at times. While the basic story seems simple enough — a pack of animals on the run from a group of hunters — it quickly becomes clear that this is not a run-of-the-mill chase sequence. For one thing, most of the animals are humans wearing animal masks.
The comic’s biggest strength is Smiley’s art. His black and white style is fantastic, easily as good as any indie comic artist out there today. The entire comic is vividly bleak and at the same time absolutely gorgeous. It is hard to image “A Map in the Dirt” having the same impact if someone other that Smiley had handled the artwork.
The real question is: will readers pick up an obtuse piece of graphic poetry that revels in its own darkness? We’ll have to wait until April when “A Map in the Dirt” is released by Grimalkin Press. Artists like Smiley that keep pushing the comic book envelope deserve to be read, so here’s hoping you’ll give it a shot. It’s worth it.