cover image Days of Sand

Days of Sand

Aimee de Jongh, trans. from the Dutch by Christopher Bradley. SelfMadeHero, $22.99 (280p) ISBN 978-1-914224-04-1

Dutch cartoonist De Jongh offers an unusual take on a uniquely American disaster—the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The narrative follows a young photographer named John Clark, who has been hired by a federal agency to photograph the ecological disaster in Oklahoma. There’s an element of propaganda, as Clark has an itinerary provided; he’s expected to document “orphaned children” and encouraged to stage photos. After initial difficulties getting subjects to agree to be photographed, Clark befriends a few locals, including a young boy who shows signs of dust-induced illness, and a pregnant widow whose story swiftly turns even more tragic. As Clark’s admiration for these good, quietly suffering country folk grows, however, so too does the narrative’s reliance on cliché. “Could I ever go back to the wailing sirens and traffic jams of New York? A city ruled by money and violence.... Whereas here, what counted was family and health.” De Jongh’s drawings are lovely: she evokes a palpable sense of place with desiccated landscapes, smothering sands, and dirt-caked faces. But the narrative concludes on a series of operatic scenes that are convincing in the moment, thanks to de Jongh’s power as an artist, but are also so perfunctory they feel unearned. It’s overwrought, but beautifully drawn. (Apr.)