Kimble Bent: Malcontent by Chris Grosz review

by David Larsen / 08 October, 2011
A great story is done no favours when retold as a graphic novel.
Will Kevin Costner play him in the movie? Kimble Bent was an American soldier in the British army who deserted during a posting to New Zealand in the 1860s. He talked his way into a Maori pa, fought alongside the Hauhau against colonial troops and eventually became known as the Pakeha Maori; and if this Dances With Kiwis tale sounds familiar, it’s perhaps because you’ve read Maurice Shadbolt’s historical novels The Lovelock Version, in which Bent is a walk-on character, or Monday’s Warriors, in which he’s a central figure.

You’re less likely to know him from James Cowan’s 1911 non-fiction title, The Adventures of Kimble Bent: A Story of Wild Life in the New Zealand Bush, although apparently it was a sensation in its day.

And a century after its day, we get the graphic novel. Cartoonist and graphic designer Chris Grosz has adapted Cowan’s book, using the scraperboard etching technique, in which white clay is coated with black ink, which is then scraped off with a fine nib.

Scraperboard images found on the web show the technique can produce delicate and complex work, but Grosz opts for a rough-hewn black and white look. The strong lines and stark contrasts emphasise the violence and danger of the New Zealand Wars appropriately enough, but the overall effect is less dramatic than crude.

Moreover, the story’s flow from one panel to the next is often counter-intuitive, and Grosz relies heavily on dense helpings of text, much of it hard-to-read white lettering on black background.
No question that this is a great story, but the treatment here doesn’t do it many favours.

KIMBLE BENT: MALCONTENT – THE WILD ADVENTURES OF A RUNAWAY SOLDIER IN OLD-TIME NEW ZEALAND, by Chris Grosz (Random House, $24.99).

For more stories and columns by David Larsen, click here.

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