History and Fantasy

How Thin is the Line Between Them?

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As a lover of a good solid story, I always look for new number ones among the independent comic racks.  I’ll give a new book a chance for at least one issue.  So, the creative team has about twenty-two pages to hook me.  Image never disappoints.  I saw an ad for Chris Dingess’ Manifest Destiny in one of my other comics.  The art looked cool and a comic about Lewis and Clark’s adventures intrigued me.  I also knew Dingess from his writing on shows like Men in Trees, Reaper, Medium, and one of my favorites, Being Human.  So I knew he could deliver great stories with real characters you can fall in love with.

The story opens up with the voyage under way up the Mississippi River.  The first four pages are basically history told through pictures as we see events unfold through the eyes of Meriwether Lewis.  That’s not to say it was boring.  It was done quite well.  The art is excellent, the panel set up is flawless, and even the letters surprised me as we see portions of Lewis’s journal.
Arch TreeHowever, the real surprise came when I turned to page six and saw the awesome splash page of the St. Louis Arch.   Obviously it’s not the arch we know that was completed in 1965.  This arch is made completely of vegetation.  This is when I began to realize that Dingess is taking a turn down the supernatural road with this piece of history.  It was confirmed later as we see the explorers attacked by a “Buffalo Man.”  I call him this because the characters themselves are perplexed at how to classify it.  The creature sports a buffalo’s body, a man’s torso and arms and a buffalo head.  The Buffalotaur

 This begins their increasingly bizarre adventure as they journey deeper into the west.  By the end of the first issue Lewis sees the need to keep two journals for the expedition.  He keeps an official one where he leaves out the details of the supernatural, and a private journal where he chronicles every detail.  I was very pleased with the first issue and have stuck with the series, which is up to number five.

Chris Dingess shows a mastery of visual story telling as he maintains historical accuracy of the people and places, yet fills in the gaps with his fantastical version of the western United States.  As I follow Lewis and Clark deeper into the west I began to see a running commentary emerge.  When President Jefferson commissioned the expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase, the whole concept of Manifest Destiny really began to take root.  The imperialistic mentality that still permeates Western Society.  It’s an attitude that says, “I have a higher authoritative agenda and therefore the right to take your land, your freedom, and if necessary your life.”

Dingess explores this attitude as the characters try to apply it to the supernatural beings they encounter. While also bringing into question the right of the explorers to exercise a higher moral authority when many of the crew are convicts coerced into joining with promises of freedom.  Many of these characters are murderous back stabbers, and much worse than the creatures they meet.

I look forward to the next issue of Chris Dingess’ Manifest Destiny.  I anticipate the explorers meeting more fascinating creatures and finding themselves in the same moral dilemmas in which we find ourselves from time to time.  Lewis, Clark, and their fellow explorers are learning what we all do.  Our world, past or present, is not a society of moral black and white.  It is a tapestry of grey areas.

Ryan Brooks
About Ryan Brooks (16 Articles)
Ryan lives in the rustic beauty of Bennettsville, SC with his wife and three children. After high school he paid his own way through college by joining the U.S. Army and earning a G.I. Bill through his four years of service. He used it to attend Francis Marion University, where he obtained A BS in Biology with a minor in Creative Writing. He has been a high school teacher and professional writer for about ten years. In 2013 he finished his graduate studies at Full Sail University, receiving his MFA in Writing for Visual Media. He is an awarded author, receiving accolades in Story Boarding for Animation and Literary Research.

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