The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 137 | Xoc: The Journey of a Great White hardcover review

Leaving Proof 137 | Xoc: The Journey of a Great White hardcover review
Published on Friday, July 27, 2012 by

From out of the depths of the review pile comes Matt Dembicki’s original graphic novel Xoc: The Journey of a Great White. Is it worth seeking out or is it forgettable Shark Week-style fodder? Read the full review to find out!

Key Review Points

Pros

  • Strikes a reasonable balance between objective documentation and “talking animal” fiction.
  • Fairly well-researched.
  • Charming art.

Cons

  • The use of talking animal protagonists might strike some readers as a misrepresentation tactic intended to sentimentalize the issues addressed in the book.

Publication Details

  • Publisher: Oni Press
  • Publication Date: July 2012
  • Written and Illustrated by: Matt Dembicki
  • Coloring by: Evan Keeling
  • Lettering by: Ed Brisson
  • Book Design by: Josh Elliot
  • Format: 128-page full-color hardcover
  • List Price: $19.99 (Digital review copy provided free-of-charge by publisher)
  • Availability: On sale now

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Full Review

In his landmark 1974 essay What is it Like to be a Bat?, the philosopher Thomas Nagel mused on the seeming impossibility of accurately and completely extrapolating animal experiences from human perceptual and cognitive apparatuses

I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Yet if I try to imagine this, I am restricted to the resources of my own mind, and those resources are inadequate to the task. I cannot perform it either by imagining additions to my present experience, or by imagining segments gradually subtracted from it, or by imagining some combination of additions, subtractions, and modifications.

To the extent that I could look and behave like a wasp or a bat without changing my fundamental structure, my experiences would not be anything like the experiences of those animals. On the other hand, it is doubtful that any meaning can be attached to the supposition that I should possess the internal neurophysiological constitution of a bat. Even if I could by gradual degrees be transformed into a bat, nothing in my present constitution enables me to imagine what the experiences of such a future stage of myself thus metamorphosed would be like. The best evidence would come from the experiences of bats, if we only knew what they were like.

The philosophical and practical issues that plague the endeavor of translating animal behavior into a legitimate human experiential analogue and vice versa are minor concerns in “talking animal” fiction, of course, where creatures serve largely as human stand-ins. In a work presenting animal behavior not as metaphor but as a thing in itself, however, ascribing human qualities to animals and characterizing their learned habits and innate impulses in terms of human values and morality can lead to distortion of natural animal behavior and phenomena.

Matt Dembicki’s original graphic novel Xoc: The Journey of a Great White manages to sidestep those problems for the most part by striking a reasonable balance between objective documentation and “talking animal” fantasy—think of it as equal parts National Geographic nature documentary and The Plague Dogs. The book’s story revolves around a female great white shark on its 2300 mile journey from California’s coast to Hawaii and the various natural and man-made obstacles in its path. When the book’s zoological protagonists do speak, it is mostly to declare unambiguous and simple utterances that are relatively light on the anthropomorphism and free of the loaded exhortations readers may have come to expect from educational entertainment fare. Some readers may still find fault with the humanization of animals in a book that arguably has pedagogical elements rooted in marine biology and ecology, however.

Dembicki backs up the content of his book with a good amount of research, drawing from peer-reviewed journals, popular news reporting, and environmental advocacy organizations. To the writer’s credit, in the book’s afterword, he encourages readers to challenge and confirm for themselves the assertions set out in the book and its sources, a stance that I find refreshing in a debate that is all too often mired in intellectually lazy rhetoric and appeals to sentiment over fact and reason.

The book’s art has a simple and understated charm to it. The various marine animal species featured in the book are easily identified based on how they are portrayed and rendered. The volume’s visual storytelling is capably executed, although Dembicki’s use of panel overlapping and irregularly-shaped panels verges on the gratuitous.

Xoc: The Journey of a Great White manages to entertain and edify at the same time with solid comics craft and a reasonably even-handed depiction of marine ecological concerns. The use of talking animal protagonists might strike some readers as a misrepresentation tactic intended to sentimentalize the matter addressed in the book, but readers able to look past that issue will find the graphic novel a satisfying read.

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