The Sanctuary

Nate Neal, Fantagraphics, $22.99 (200p) ISBN 978-1-60699-388-0
This debut graphic novel ambitiously imagines the purposes of prehistoric art within the context of an imagined precivilization. Most strikingly, his tale is expressed entirely through the actions of his characters—their dialogue is written in an invented, phonetic language. The book’s central figure is an unnamed wall painter within a small cave-dwelling community. The painter (or “JANI”) is marginalized within his culture—perhaps because of his unsuitability for either hunting or child-rearing; however, the book mainly considers the relationship between art and power. In one sequence, a hunter persuades the artist to distort a historical record. Elsewhere, his picture writing presents an alternative vision of social organization, as opposed to the dominant ritualism. And in a pivotal moment, the artist’s unofficial history of his community’s life enables perspective and insight that affect subsequent events. Though inspired by real artifacts and motivated by recognizable, basic human motivations, this book is a fantasy, further clarified by a Twilight Zone twist at the book’s end. Neal’s dark pen work suggests texture, detail, and light effectively, and shoulders the burden of his almost-wordless storytelling. Despite some occasionally unclear moments, the broad sweep of the book’s action and ideas unmistakably raises thoughtful questions, marking Neal as an artist to watch. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/11/2010
Release date: 10/01/2010
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