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These Savage Shores (review)—“When immortal truth is your only friend”

Writer: Ram V

Artists: Sumit Kumar and Vittorio Astone


TOO ABSOLUTELY COOL TO FORGIVE. I was just done with humans, and this team of artists pulls me back, at least to 1766 along the Malabar Coast, Calicut, on the shores of the Indian Ocean facing eastward, where all sailing ships had to stop in those early days of coast-hopping, before Captain Cook found Australia and a shorter route across the Tropic of Capricorn direct to the southern cape of Africa and quicker home to merry England, the lord of the seas in those merry times.

This new tale attracted me immediately with the intense color washes through which the lines remain clear, the pictures distinct but swept, engulfed, ridden. Reading THESE SAVAGE SHORES felt like those velvety nights in Mexico or Las Vegas when the subdued heat of the day embraces you completely like a giant breathing creature, part lit and unlit.

Destination India is the word of the times. The first character in focus in Issue 1 is shipped there. Once I see the date and the place, I imagine Clive: these are the times of the “discontented young British factor” Robert Clive ousting the French during the Seven Years War as we remember in America with George Washington; and in 1757, unintimidated by awesomely superior numbers, Clive annihilated the ruler of Bengal with cannon at Plassy. The East India Company subsequently took charge of affairs before the British government a world away quite knew what was happening, much as George Washington’s commercial crew.

Lord Clive returned to Bengal for a third and final time in 1765, and found the “sudden, and among many, the unwarrantable acquisition of riches, had introduced luxury in every shape and in the most pernicious excess,” and they “proceed even to extortion in those cases where simple corruption could not keep pace with their rapacity”; and “the evil was contagious.” Thanks to Professor Romesh Dutt in 1901 for primary documents on early British rule in India, and hopefully we shall see quotable Lord Clive here eventually in the flesh, but really this whole story is more ancient.

In the story itself as imagined by author Ram V and illustrated by Sumit Kumar, and wholly enwrapped in the overlaid colors of Vittorio Astone, near the end of the first issue a slit of panels shows a pulsing dance in the heated ganja night, and a scent of jungle and blood and teeth. This heart of the tale is ancient and not yet revealed, as the plot advances slowly in gulps.

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The British imperialists in Bengal are part of an ancient story, too. The seacoasts of India were among the first civilized places on earth, and their fine products attracted merchants from Egypt, the East, and Rome. Western traders could only bring silver and gold to satisfy Indian merchants, who had better of everything, so over time magnificent treasures accrued in India as in the giant rooms filled with coins and goblets we see in fantasy adventures, all real, drawing the lust of European pirates, first in the Crusades, and later to India itself once armed ships could make it there. We know of these treasures and the plundering from Clive’s personal experiences.

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The main thing about warrior heroes and demon kings, is they don’t back down. You don’t back down either, or you are simply meat, or meat anyway once you meet a superior enemy. Some of the savagery here involves meeting a superior enemy, very quickly and definitely. In that flash, in that instant to stand, what do you do? What do you really do? This is a dangerous story to start. And too lush to resist.