By the early 1800s the natives of the island of Madagascar had been getting exploited by a succession of colonizers and invaders. Precious resources had been abused and indigenous culture had been ignored or erased as the visitors attempted to exert their own practices on the country. Ramavo is a brave and adventurous young woman. She is appalled by the patronizing merchants who belittle the beliefs of the population and try to sell them Western products. When she uncovers plans for a plot to install a puppet leader (and thereby siphon the nation’s riches away from its people), she is outraged. Her anger is the first step on her journey to becoming a fearsome and controversial queen who will isolate her country and drive away anybody who tries to invade.
MADAGASCAR (Volume 1) recounts the first part of her story through the medium of a stylish, monochrome graphic novel. It is competently drawn by Light Comic Studio, capturing the pride and fortitude of the future queen as she battles for what she believes is right. It is something of a passion project for writer Jaguar Prince, who is seeking to redress opinion regarding the legacy of Queen Ranavalona. He acknowledges that she is one of the most hated of historical African queens, and hopes to reposition her as the formidable national leader she became. Though there are many controversies in Ranavalona’s reign, this first part concentrates on her earlier years and the sparks that lit the fire in her belly. Though sometimes a little static, with many pages given to extended conversation, there are dramatic moments—notably an exciting chase sequence punctuated by the surprise appearance of a bloodthirsty crocodile, and numerous incidents with spears and swords. The character design is excellent, as is the costuming of the various nationalities and factions. The double-crossing French merchant, with his safari suit and chevron mustache, is convincingly untrustworthy. The Madagascan women are resplendent in their local dress. However, there is little background detail in any of the panels, no real sense of space or place, the bare minimum of texture, and hardly any hints at architecture or landscape. It’s a shame there isn’t much to visually excite the reader, but the characters do carry the story through Prince’s clear and concise text.
Jaguar Prince’s ‘s MADAGASCAR (Volume 1) is an enjoyable visual retelling of the life of a controversial historical figure, as well as a stylish and informative read.
~Kent Lane for IndieReader