This review originally appeared in a slightly different form on my now-dead, short-lived personal blog back in May. But Graphic Policy is a much better location for this review!
A few months ago (back in May) I helped to organize a local convention at my university, serving as a panelist coordinator, and while the convention wasn’t the most successful to date in the history of cons, it was nonetheless a wonderful experience to be involved in, and especially to meet all of the wonderful artists, writers, cosplayers, and even actors who participated in our wide-ranging panels. I got the opportunity to check out our exhibition hall, where we had several comic book industry insiders, including Brandon Jerwa (Vampirella, Battlestar Galactica, G.I. Joe), Mark Rahner (Vampirella, Warlord of Mars, Rotten), Mike Catron and Gary Groth (co-founders of Fantagraphics Books and the guys who took over The Nostalgia Journal and turned it into today’s famous The Comics Journal), James Taylor (artist and co-founder of Jet City Comic Show), and a number of authors (Danika Dinsmre, Janet Lee Carey), several professors from Western Washington University and the University of Washington, and many vendors from Portland, OR to Vancouver, B.C.
One of the best finds of the con, however, was meeting Jordan Kotzebue and cashing in a well-spent $15 for the first three issues of his Hominids series. Kotzebue’s work in this creator-owned, independent comic series is outstanding, with a playful artistic style that is beautiful, fun to look at, and richly detailed. One quick flip through his books and I was sold (quite literally) on their ability to at least visually captivate and tell and solid story. I was not disappointed, either, by the writing, especially after the story comes into its own in issues #2 and #3 (it feels as though #1 was written by someone completely different).
Hominids is not just good and original art, though, it’s also a really intricate and playful story which deals with complex issues that plague society today. While it’s not necessarily a good review to say “this connects to society,” since almost every comic or piece of Nerd media nowadays is talking about issues pertinent to modern, globally conscious citizens (this is, after all, due to the fact that media is partly a reflection of its time and grapples with the complexities its consumers face in situ), Koztebue’s work does more than just calmly allude to race and, to a lesser extent, gender relation in the U.S. and elsewhere. Instead, Hominids vividly challenges notions of biologized racial attributes by showing that culture and historical circumstances are what shape individuals’ and groups’ actions.
Disavowing the idea that racial and ethnic groups have innate, born-in-the-bled differences is incredibly important to achieving racial inequality, since arguments about biologized race have been the basis for oppression, genocide, ethnocide, linguicide, and slavery for hundreds (thousands) of years of interaction between Western Euro-America and the largely non-White rest of the world. And while I can’t say for sure that Kotzebue means to create a parable about race and the nature vs. nurture/biology vs. culture debates, the prehistorical context with multiple Hominid groups vying for dominance in their respective ecological niches provides a great foil for this kind of fun, lighthearted exploration of a very serious present-day issue.
By virtue of its temporally distant setting, Hominids can call into question the belief that race is something genetic. The Homo sapiens (Humans) in the second issue are shown as a violent species, constantly warring with the other Hominid groups, but especially Kotzebue’s forest-dwelling, tree-climbing Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals). With the introduction of the human character Icari, who was cast out of his human city for believing he found the One True God (which looks like a demon on a spaceship…time travel?!), antagonism and mistrust erupts in the Neanderthal pack, who want little to do with a violent human. However, pack leader Zona points out that this human might be proof that the humans’ culture is to blame for their violence, and not their nature.
The second and third issues are packed full of useful insights that hearken to issues of colonialism worldwide, but which especially parallel the struggle of Native Americans against Whites, a point made all the more potent since all the humans drawn thus far are ‘Caucasian’ (and, curiously, so are the Neanderthals). There are also issues raised about disability, given that two of the main characters are albino; while not a physical or mental disability, albinism is definitely a social one.
In terms of gender dynamics, it could be pointed out that the female characters bearing their breasts is sexualizing, but given the context of the story (Hello, they’re Neanderthal’s…who look just like humans…) and the fact that Zona and Sno don’t seem to be hyper-sexualized like most comics these days, Hominds doesn’t strongly reinforce stereotypes about female characters, and even goes so far as to provide a major female leader. It is possible, though, that Sno’s albinism and Icari’s fascination with her could easily develop overtones of objectification of Sno as a goddess figure. I trust in Jordan, though, given Hominids‘ other overall themes.
As a reader, I’m wondering whether or not the savage and chimp-like peoples will get their fair say as well, or if Zona’s argument about culture driving action will fall in on itself and contradict what is one of the most socially conscious and critical points of the whole series thus far.
I find Hominids a thrilling, light-hearted and yet somehow serious, additional to my comic collection. Primatology and Hominid evolution is great fun to study in class, but it’s so much more exciting in fiction (think, Planet of the Apes, Tarzan of the Apes, Auel’s Earth’s Children series), not the least of which because pondering what-ifs regarding our nearest ancestors and cousins is so delightfully threatening to our assumed specialness as evolved, intelligent, and evolutionarily successful critters.
If it could be put on your local comic bookstore pull list, I would recommend everyone to do so. Unfortunately, for now, we’ll have to settle for the online version and what becomes available in Kotzebue’s e-store. Hominids is available page-by-page online and updated every Tuesday, but I thoroughly suggest that you buy the individual issues through his e-store, not only because they are a wonderful addition to any comic collector’s stash, but because they look so much better in person! Also, I’m a sucker for getting to interact physically with the media I consume–there’s nothing better than smell and feel of new comics and old books! And supporting an up-and-coming artist is a way you can contribute personally to the creation of great, socially conscious art.
You can check out Hominds on Facebook, and follow Jordan Kotzebue on both Twitter and Tumblr, where you can check out his non-Hominids art and experience the full range of his dynamic style.
Story and art: Jordan Kotzebue
Story: 8.5 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy