cover image Land of the Dead: Lessons from the Underworld on Storytelling and Living

Land of the Dead: Lessons from the Underworld on Storytelling and Living

Brian McDonald and Toby Cypress. First Second, $27.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-62672-731-1

McDonald (Old Souls) distills a seminar’s worth of storytelling lessons from an interdisciplinary cross-section of literature and mythography into an eerie yet life-affirming graphic narrative. Appreciative of the importance of mood-setting, he employs a learned crow as narrator. Broken into seven loosely themed sections, the book is largely about the wisdom to be gained from the “Land of the Dead,” however it might be represented. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Hitchcock, he relates instances of characters’ journeys into the underworld, for which he uses the Greek “katabasis,” and the wisdom they bring back. That wisdom is often variations on a theme: enjoy what fleeting life one gets. Still, McDonald’s pungent recreations, enhanced by scratchy and dark-shadowed art by Cypress (the Gravediggers Union series), of various “fictive dreams” (borrowing a term from John Gardner) are both wide-ranging (Little Red Riding Hood to Moby-Dick and The Silence of the Lambs) and evocative. McDonald casts his net so wide that it seems to encompass anything remotely connected to death. Also, writers looking for practical advice could be disappointed: there is little here to help finish that long-gestating mystery novel. But those who appreciate and take inspiration from musings on mythology and the underlying soul of great literature will be rewarded. (Jan.)